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Remote working, the legislation and what to be aware of

Gillian McAteer, Head of Employment Law - Citation

Almost all of 50 of the UK’s biggest employers questioned in a recent BBC survey have said they do not plan to bring staff back to the office full-time. This means that for up to a million workers, remote or flexible will become their new normal. 

With more and more companies moving to fully remote working there are many legalities that need to be explored to ensure a complete working relationship between employee and employer.

So how can businesses remain efficient, secure and legal when approaching the employment of full-time remote workers. 

Gillian McAteer, Head of Employment Law at Citation said: “If businesses feel that their experience of home working during the pandemic has been a successful one and want to incorporate this as a permanent feature of their work arrangements within their business, there are a few key points to bear in mind.

They should introduce a formal home working policy clarifying the position regarding matters such as the ownership, acceptable use of and insurance of company equipment, absence reporting procedures, responsibility for expenses such as broadband costs for example. This will manage expectations on both sides clearly  which will be crucial in avoiding problems further down the line. 

Cyber Security
Cyber security is a very common concern for businesses employing remote workers as many unique issues can arise from an employee being out of a secure office environment. Issues such as housemates or partners overhearing confidential conversations between co-workers, or client data being stored on personal computers should all be addressed by businesses prior to the employment of a remote worker. 

“When it comes to client data, a risk assessment will need to be conducted alongside IT and security specialists. This should identify what controls need to be in place and can then make a decision based on these,” states Gillian. “Additional training to remote workers on security and protection should be encouraged.”

Phishing attacks are becoming increasingly more common. It could be argued this type of training could help the employees in their personal lives, as well as professional lives.

Employee Privacy
The coronavirus pandemic saw the popularity of monitoring software skyrocket however businesses must not blur the lines between monitoring and surveillance. 

“While some businesses may be concerned at the lack of visibility home working brings in many roles and may be tempted by the technological tools available for employee monitoring , they must respect their employees right to privacy,” says Gillian. 

“Trust is absolutely key to effective home working and the best way to optimise this is through open communication and setting clear expectations in terms of performance and behaviour rather than very close monitoring which only tends to undermine trust”

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) outlines that employers do not have the right to listen in and watch what employees are doing without their permission. It is advisable that where monitoring is taking place, this is explained to employees in advance, together with the reason for this, and it is included in a clear policy. 

It’s really important that employers do not discriminate when it comes to remote working. A business that hires a wheelchair user to work remotely rather than putting in the adjustments within the workplace to make it suitably accessible could be considered discriminative. 

“If a business has some employees working remotely and some working in the office, it should be down to personal choice by the employee.”

McAteer also states that the business would also need to ensure that any remote workers are not at a disadvantage. For example, ensuring all remote workers can join meetings via a video link and have adequate equipment in order to do their job just as well at home as they would on a working premise. 

Other points mentioned by the service provider included the importance of providing adequate training and up-to-date risk assessments. 

“The training of homeworkers is very important, and it must not be assumed that they are trained. This must be formalised, documented, and signed for. Training may also incorporate providing information and company standards so that there is no. misunderstanding between parties,” explains Gillian. 

“A risk assessment is essential in creating an efficient and lawful remote working environment. This will help identify the associated hazards and associated control measures. Risk assessments must be carried out for all the work activities carried out by the homeworkers.”  

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