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What are my rights when it comes to working from home?

UK News | Published:

The coronavirus has prompted employees and employers to think carefully about staff working remotely.

A woman working on a PC and using a phone

More working from home could be encouraged as part of the Government’s so-called battle plan to delay the spread of the coronavirus.

Here, we take a look at what that means for both employers and employees.

– How can you work from home?

A laptop on a dining room table
Acas advises employers to ask staff with work laptops to take them home (Joe Giddens/PA)

Conciliation service Acas’s general advice on homeworking includes suggesting employers should ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home to allow them to continue working. They also suggest paperwork tasks could be arranged for staff who do not work on computers.

– Is working from home under normal circumstances my right?

No. “You cannot demand as an employee to work from home,” employment solicitor Stephen Woodhouse said. “The employer is not obliged to offer working from home.”

– Will it work for everyone?

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Employees need to be self-disciplined and motivated, able to work with less supervision, and content to spend long periods on their own in order to make a success of working from home, Acas says.

While most service industries which primarily use email and telephone calls to conduct their businesses should be able to carry on with employees working from home, obvious challenges would be faced by people who work, for example, as nurses or in a supermarket.

– Does your employer have to cover your internet costs?

A broadband router
Employers are not legally obliged to cover internet costs (Rui Vieira/PA)

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In short, no. Mr Woodhouse from Stephensons Solicitors firm in the North West, said working from home very much depends on whether a company already has a policy in place.

He said: “There’s no statutory obligation to pay for somebody’s internet where they’re working from home.”

But he said companies do tend to offer such expenses, along with covering equipment costs for computers and telephones as such a move is seen as “fair”.

– Can I work from my living room, bedroom or kitchen?

Health and safety legislation applies to employees working from home just as it does to those working in an office or other workplace.

A risk assessment should be carried out considering the suitability of things like the temperature, lighting and space where the employee intends to carry out their work and the chair and desk they intend to sit at, Acas advises.

But visiting dozens of employees’ homes to do so might not be practical, Mr Woodhouse added.

“The employers have a duty under the health and safety legislation to assess risks in the workplace.

“But is it practicable, is it possible? I guess it is, but not in the same timeframe that you would expect for them to ensure that an office workspace would be suitably health and safety compliant.”

– What about protecting data outside the office?

A woman’s hands on a laptop keyboard
Employers are taking a risk if they cannot ensure a remote, secure login (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

GDPR regulations and the protection of customers’ data must be considered, Mr Woodhouse said, explaining that data must be stored properly.

“An employer will need to be careful with that and make sure that the appropriate protections are in place. Ideally through a remote, secure login.

“If you can’t secure that as the employer you’d be taking a risk.”

– What can you do now to help yourself?

Check if your company has a working from home policy in place already and what it might entitle you to.

“This is more about planning ahead, asking the questions if you’re an employee to say what have you got in place, checking your handbook, checking your homeworking policy,” Mr Woodhouse said.

Companies who do not have a policy would be well-advised to look into it, he added.

“And the same thing from the employer’s perspective, can they pre-empt this and perhaps look to even at this stage maybe having a couple of people working from home (as a trial)?”

He said employers should consider whether they have appropriate equipment available, connectivity for their employees and security to allow homeworking to happen.

“It’s about planning for a situation that may happen.”

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