How to make sure your business stays above HR law while staff continue to work remotely

Concept - HR laws for remote staff
It?s looking increasingly likely that employees will continue to work remotely well in to 2021. Debbie Sadler from Blaser Mills Law explains what businesses should be doing to ensure they continue to work within legal HR structures.

Many businesses are having a difficult time at present trying to understand and implement the latest coronavirus restrictions, whilst doing everything in their power to ensure the future of their business.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has undoubtedly saved jobs and supported many businesses, but it has changed and evolved since its original inception. The current scheme is in place until 30th April 2021, but the Chancellor has stated that further changes may be made from February 2021.

Furloughed workers

The new lockdown restrictions may mean the scheme will see an increase in users. Employers can furlough any employee who was on their payroll from 30 October 2020 and for whom they have made a PAYE RTI submission to HMRC between 20 March 2020 and 20 October 2020. It is possible for employers to furlough any staff, meaning they do not need to have been furloughed before.

Those who are considering furloughing workers due to the new lockdown must gain written agreements or written confirmation of the agreement from their employees, which they must retain for five years.

The current scheme can be used flexibly to meet business needs, for example it allows staff to work on a part time basis if this suits the firm?s requirements. Employers must keep a record of hours worked and pay their employees for this time. The furlough scheme is then available to top up the rest of the employee?s normal hours that they have not worked.

It is important to remember that the government will pay 80% of wages for hours not worked up to a cap of ?2,500 per month for claim periods running to 31st January 2021. Employers are required to cover NICs and employer pension contributions on all amounts paid to an employee, including those covered by the furlough scheme.

Following the most recent national lockdown introduced on 4 January 2021, employees must only attend their workplace if they cannot reasonably work from home and employers should take “every possible step” to facilitate home working including providing suitable IT and equipment.

Health and safety measures for staff working from home

Guidance issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that there is no specific requirement for employers to carry out an assessment of employee?s homework station if they are working from home on a temporary basis.

However, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, if the employee is working from home on a long-term basis, an assessment must be carried out. Many employers will have had their staff working from home since March, and so should consider whether a risk assessment is necessary. Businesses with a small number of workers can provide them with a basic risk assessment to complete, which can then be used to feedback information to employers.

To continue to work within the HR structures of home working, employers must provide employees with safe systems of work and working equipment, as stated under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

As employees will be working from home for the foreseeable future, there is the risk that their set up may not be suitable. For example, they could suffer occupational strain injuries from the lack of correct furniture, such as a desk and chair.

To prevent such incidents, employers should consider whether they need to provide staff with equipment.

They should also consider employees who have disabilities, are pregnant or have other specific needs. In these situations, equipment may need to be supplied as a ?reasonable adjustment? under section 20 of the Equality Act 2010, which requires employers to take steps to prevent certain employees being put at a disadvantage.

During this third lockdown, employers need to continue to implement processes and protocols for their employees to follow. Good channels of communication and ensuring that those ?out of sight? know that they are not ?out of mind? will be essential to the success of continuous home working practices.

Debbie Sadler is a senior associate in the employment team at Blaser Mills Law.

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