Between January and December 2019, 1.7 million people in the UK reported that they mainly worked from home. That’s about 5% of the country’s 33 million workers. Since the government enforced its lockdown measures to combat the spread of Coronavirus, millions of people have joined them, setting up their workstations within their own homes.
The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab has extended the lockdown further, taking it to at least 7th May at the time of writing. There will then be another review, and therefore how long UK workers are expected to work from home is unknown. It’s possible that working from home could be the new normal for a long time to come.
As we adjust to this challenging environment and a sudden cultural shift when it comes to our working lives, employers should be sensitive, flexible and practical when it comes to employees’ situations. In this article, we look at some of the things that you should consider if you have employees that are working from home.
Balancing Work and Childcare
On 20th March 2020, schools in the UK shut their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While for some, working from home will be a welcome break from a repetitive routine or monotonous commute, for many the reality means having to juggle work commitments and family life.
Under normal circumstances, it would not be appropriate for your employees to provide childcare whilst working from home. However, with schools, nurseries and childminding services closed for the foreseeable future, and social distancing putting a stop to grandparents being able to help out, it would result in a large percentage of the workforce not working at all. Therefore, you may need to take a realistic approach, provide flexibility and agree a workaround solution with your employees.
There are a number of approaches that you could consider to support your employees and their childcare duties. These include condensing their hours, shortening working days so that they start later or finish earlier and changing shifts to evenings/nights or varying working hours so that they can fit work in around the job of a partner or other member of the household and split childcare.
Your employees also have the right to take time off if they cannot work because of childcare issues. The options are as follows:
1) Time Off For Dependants
Ordinarily, this form of unpaid leave would be used when employees need to arrange childcare in emergencies, for example if their child is ill or if their school has to close due to adverse weather. There are limits to how much time can be taken, but it is generally accepted that it is to be used for emergencies only and not an extended amount of time.
It’s unlikely that this will cover the period in which the schools are closed, but given the current situation, you could consider giving employees who need it an extended period of leave. There is also the possibility that the courts will widen the definition of ‘emergency’ in light of the pandemic, and employers will certainly be expected to act reasonably.
2) Parental Leave
Unpaid Parental Leave is designed to give employees a longer period of time off for childcare reasons. Employees are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child they have, which they can take at any point between their child’s birth and the time they turn 18. They can take 4 weeks per year, per child, but can also take more at the employer’s discretion.
Employees must give 21 days’ notice (however, this can be waivered by employers) and Parental Leave must be taken in whole weeks unless you agree that your employee can take individual days or if the child is disabled.
Whatever situation your employees find themselves in, it’s important that they understand that they can be honest with you. Encourage them to talk to you about their schedule and workload so that you can find a solution that works for both of you.
For more information and advice on the employment challenges that have arisen as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, please click here.
People who are used to remote working would have found the transition to home working due to Coronavirus fairly straightforward. However, the majority of UK workers have had to adapt to working from home almost overnight. This has no doubt given rise to a number of challenges for employers as well as employees, including not having the correct working set up or equipment to work safely and productively.
The Institute of Employment Studies carried out a homeworking wellbeing survey and more than half of the 500 people that responded reported experiencing new aches and pains after the first two weeks of lockdown. 58% of respondents complained of neck pain, 56% experienced shoulder pain and 55% had suffered back pain.
Despite the inconveniences that working from home could cause, as an employer, you are still responsible for the health and safety of your employees. With that being said, you should provide your team with the appropriate equipment, such as a screen, keyboard and mouse. A laptop, if provided with a riser, is also a suitable option.
In spite of the fact that a DSE assessment cannot be carried out in the usual way, employees that are working from home should still complete a self-assessment. In certain cases, you could consider asking employees to send a photograph of them sat at their workstations for a remote assessment to be carried out. Any issues raised should be discussed and you should come to an agreement on how the risks will be minimised.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that if any of your employees are provided with specialist equipment at the office, such as an ergonomic chair, they should be able to access the same equipment at home. Once you have assessed your employees’ home setup, you may need to arrange for the appropriate equipment to be delivered to them, so that they can work safely without it affecting their physical wellbeing.
Take a look at this video from our Health and Safety team for tips on how your employees can work safer and smarter at home.
On the subject of your employees’ equipment, it’s important that you understand what your business insurance covers you for when it comes to employees working from home. What’s more, it would reassure your team to know that their equipment is protected and give them one less thing to be concerned about in these uncertain times.
Whereas many business insurance policies offer cover on all computer equipment taken away from the premises as standard, we advise you not to assume you have this and check with your insurance provider. If your employees are using their own personal equipment for work that is clerical only (i.e. using a PC or phone), many home insurance policies will cover it, including those insured with Thomas Carroll Private Clients. However, if they are using their own equipment for work that is more specialist in nature and is used for non-clerical activities, it’s worth encouraging them to check that they have the right cover in place with their home insurance provider.
Managing Cyber Security
We recently reported on how cyber criminals are using the Coronavirus crisis to take advantage of people online. With millions of people now suddenly working from home and without access to a secure local network, unfortunately the risk of devices being hacked has increased. Whereas the majority of us are not used to working remotely, cyber criminals already operate from the comfort of their own homes and the outbreak hasn’t impacted their ability to break the law. In fact, our new circumstances present them with the perfect opportunity to attack.
Those using their own laptops and desktops to work are even more vulnerable. Their personal devices usually don’t have the adequate level of protection, which poses a cyber security risk. Worryingly, a recent survey by service provider, Atlas Cloud found that 25% of respondents were using their own devices to work, 58% of which are storing business information on them.
Here are a few things that employers should consider when it comes to cyber security, especially whilst their employees are working from home:
- Using corporate devices wherever possible
- Ensuring devices are protected with security software and antivirus solutions
- Keeping systems up to date with security patches and updates
- Restricting access to some third-party websites
- Using corporate intranet accounts to share working files
- Using multi-factor authentication to log in to accounts
- Using a password manager to ensure passwords are strong and unique
- Encrypting sensitive company information and backing up data
- Using SPAM filters to detect viruses, block suspicious websites and prevent suspicious emails from reaching employee inboxes
According to data from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), 90% of cyber data breaches in 2019 were caused by human error. Around half of cyber-attacks involve phishing, where people are tricked into clicking on a link or attachment within an email to either infect their machine with malware, or by taking them to a website that looks legit, but is really designed to steal sensitive information. This can be bad news when it comes to employees working away from the office.
Once your security measures are in place, it’s vital to educate your employees about the importance of cyber security, including showing them what a phishing email looks like and what to look out for, such as:
- Checking if the sender’s address is legitimate
- Being wary of subject lines that evoke fear, e.g. ‘Your account has been locked’
- Being wary of emails that don’t address the recipient directly
- Not opening email attachments that they weren’t expecting
- Looking out for poor grammar and spelling mistakes
- Not trusting emails that ask for personal information, such as bank account details
- Checking that there are legitimate contact details within the signature
Despite your best efforts, a cyber breach is not completely preventable. Cyber insurance will protect your business if you suffer a breach or attack and cover you for any losses that you experience. For more information on how to protect your business from cyber crime whilst your employees are working from home, please contact our cyber specialist, Emma Francis today on 01792 704317 or at email@example.com.
Have Any Questions?
If you need advice or would like further information about the above, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can reach our team by calling 02920 853788 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.