Advice for employers on homeworking: what if our employees can’t work from home?
Yesterday evening Boris Johnson announced a suite of measures designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) which included a recommendation that employees work from home “if they can”. Many businesses which have already embraced agile working, including home-working, will be well-placed to respond to this, but what about those businesses which do not have the equipment for it, or which, by their very nature, cannot support home-working, such as non-essential shops, healthcare services and transport organisations? We have thought about some practical steps that such organisations can take.
Adapt working practices where you can
Can you purchase equipment, such as laptops, printers and scanners which enable employees to work from home? Are there alternative means of service provision that are suitable for remote working, such as dealing with customers or service users over the phone or live-streaming classes that would normally be given in person? Can you temporarily redeploy employees to alternative duties which are suitable for homeworking? Given employers’ duty of care to employees, it will likely be more beneficial to seek to adapt duties and working practices in the first instance than to require people to come into the office when this is not absolutely necessary. This also reduces the risk of large proportions of the workforce being off sick at any one time.
Promote safety in the workplace where possible
Where it is necessary for employees to come into the office, is it possible for them to work in rotating shifts, rostered together with the same colleagues each time, so that the number of people at risk is smaller? Can you take steps to distance employees from each other, perhaps again having a smaller team working at less close quarters? Can you provide equipment to limit employees’ contact with customers? According to gov.uk advice, good hygiene and distancing (at least 2 metres apart) are the best preventative measures. Ensuring that employees have access to plentiful hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial handwash is essential. Employers should remind employees to wash their hands regularly and could consider offering surgical gloves to avoid individuals picking up the virus from work surfaces or from customers’ hands. Employees working behind glass screens will, according to PHE advice, be protected from infecting airborne particles.
Consider other distancing measures
Other options might include asking employees to take annual leave (which, in addition to reducing the health risk, should ensure greater output later in the year when economic activity should be healthier) or even unpaid leave/sabbaticals for a time. Securing volunteers for this is more likely to be achievable in light of school closures, and if the seeking of volunteers is positioned primarily as a health and safety measure rather than an economic measure (it may be both at the same time). It may also be an option to take advantage of the government’s new “furlough scheme” which allows employers to be reimbursed for 80% of the wage costs of employees who are asked to take leave of absence due to lack of work for them to do.
For further information, please contact a member of the Kemp Little Employment team
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