With lockdown easing, and businesses opening back up, many employees will be going back into the workplace.
With COVID-19 still circulating, however, they will be facing tighter rules and regulations around hand hygiene, distancing and face masks. But for those businesses that are more office-based a return to the usual 9-5 desk environment may not happen for some time to come. Many employers are asking their staff to work from home for the foreseeable future. Indeed, post-COVID, some are thinking of a more permanent switch to homeworking, for all or part of the working week.
And while this offers many advantages to both the employer – a reduction of fixed office costs – and employees – greater flexibility – an employer’s duty to keep their employees safe at work does not end at the office door. Health and safety for homeworkers needs to be assessed in the same way as for office-based workers.
Homeworking in lockdown
For most people, the transition to homeworking was not long in the planning. The urgency of the lockdown meant that many workers were left creating makeshift office environments, with little guidance from their employers and little thought as to the long-term impact it could have on their health. Employers were focused on switching their business systems online and ensuring all employees had access to them. Whilst this is perhaps understandable on a short-term emergency basis, employers’ duties to their employees do not go away simply because we are in the midst of a pandemic. Ensuring the health and safety of your homeworkers, particularly where the arrangement is likely to be permanent, is a responsibility that cannot be shirked by employers.
What should your employer be doing to keep you safe?
An employer’s duty to keep you safe at work does not change just because you are working from home. However, the health, safety and emotional considerations that inform their duties may well have. There is advice from the HSE to support employers with this. However, here are some of the obligations your employer has and how they might apply to your home environment.
Health and safety
- All organisations should have updated their homeworking health and safety policies to offer guidance to staff currently working from home. This should be communicated to all employees.
- Part of this policy should include clear guidance on how to carry out a risk assessment of your homework space. As most homeworkers will be desk-based and using a computer, one of the main things the risk assessment should consider relates to this setup.
- The risk assessment needs to cover things such as:
- Whether you have a separate keyboard, and how it is positioned.
- Whether you have a separate mouse and trackball, and any pressure its use may have on your wrists and forearms.
- The positioning of your screen, the clarity of the text and whether there is any glare or reflections.
- The furniture you are using to access your computer. The desk needs to be large enough for all your equipment to be spaced out but also easily accessible. Your chair should position you upright with support at the back, your feet flat on the floor and at a height that means that your forearms are horizontal and your eyes are at the top of your screen.
- Your work environment should also be considered in terms of light, heat and space.
- A risk assessment should also look at any particular difficulties you might encounter due to an existing health concern, pregnancy or disability. Your employer must put in place any reasonable adjustments required to make sure that you can work safely.
- If you are not comfortable with carrying out a risk assessment, the rules on social distancing allow your employer to send someone to your home to carry out that risk assessment for you.
Homeworking without carrying out these types of assessment could lead to you sustaining injury or to developing a long-term health condition.
Your employer also has a responsibility to take care of your wellbeing whilst at work. During these strange times prioritising your mental health has never been so important. Many people will be feeling anxious about the pandemic; but also may fear redundancy or find working at home isolating and a challenge. Your employer should have in place support mechanisms for you and have regular supervision discussions to make sure you are well, and that your work is not unmanageable. This includes taking into account any additional care responsibilities you might have.
They should be making sure that you are keeping regular hours and taking regular breaks. Getting up and moving not only helps your mind but helps your physical health too.
If working from home is for the long-term within your company, the thorny issue of expenses may also arise. Unfortunately, there is no obligation on your employer to contribute to heating and broadband bills whilst you are at home. Some companies will have a policy that relates to this, and you should request a copy to see what you may be entitled to. If your contract does not include a section that permits your employer to make you work from home, then they need your agreement to do so, and expenses could become part of that negotiation.
Your friend through lockdown and beyond
Throughout this pandemic, Friends Legal have aimed to support and inform our clients, offering practical advice and tailoring it as the situation develops. Now we are emerging from lockdown a new normal is evolving, requiring everyone to adapt. Employers are no exception to that, and you should not be left to work at home without support. If your employer is not prioritising your health and safety while you are working at home, then that must change. Otherwise, they risk jeopardising your long-term health and wellbeing and opening themselves up to a workplace injury claim.
If you have sustained an injury whilst working from home during the COVID-19 crisis, please get in touch, and one of our team will help you. From the minute you contact our team, we start working hard for you. We have years of experience in dealing with insurers and will fight to get you the maximum compensation you are owed. To get started with your claim today, contact us today by calling 0333 3580 583 or complete our online enquiry form and a member of our dedicated team will get back to you right away. We’re here to help.