Employer Legal aspects of Remote Working

Kelly MansfieldLegal details normally turn people off, but it is extremely important stuff! Kelly Mansfield is an editor and writer at Workplace Law. Workplace Law specialises in employment law, health & safety and environmental management and is a provider of information, training, consultancy and support services. Kelly has written a post for us that considers some of the main legal issues for employers in light of the recently released Flexible Working Regulations 2014.

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Is Remote Working the way Forward for Employers as well as Employees?

Remote working is the new workplace fad, but can all employers trust their staff to work responsibly away from their desk? With employers implementing workplace rules that mean workers must travel to the office each day to carry out their working activities, it would appear that some bosses want to keep a close eye on their staff.

However, forcing employees to make their way into the office every day can actually have numerous detrimental effects.

With over a fifth of commuters in the UK spending more than 30 minutes travelling to work on a daily basis and the cost of travel ever increasing, both time and money is being wasted by forcing workers to always travel to work.

As new legislation come into force though, it will be interesting to see whether employers find themselves having to be more adjustable.

Photo by

Photo by Sarah Joy, Flickr

The Flexible Working Regulations 2014, which came into force on 30 June 2014, allows any employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service to request flexible working. Prior to the new regulations, only employees with children aged under 17, or 18 if disabled, and those caring for the elderly, who have 26 weeks’ continuous service, were able to request flexible working.

So will this change simply mean that employers will be bombarded with applications from employees wishing to change their working environment, or their working hours, or maybe even a combination of the two? The answer is probably yes, but employers must remember that they are not legally required to accept an application. However, they must have a good reason to reject it if they choose to.

A business can actually only refuse the request under eight specific business reasons, and must go through a very structured, legal and time-bound procedure when considering the request. If the request is granted, it’s a permanent change to terms and conditions; if it is not granted, the employee has the right to appeal and thereafter, the process is closed.

Implications for statistics

It is extremely likely that the introduction of the new regulations will ensure there is an increase in the amount of people who work from home. However, statistics show that a large number of people already do enjoy flexible working.

In line with the National Work from Home Day in May this year, TUC findings were published, which stated that the number of people who say they usually work from home has increased by 62,000 over the course of the last 12 months. The way people work has been beginning to change for the past few years and the new flexible working regulations will possibly accelerate the figures in the coming months.

Invasion of privacy?

It is vital to remember that no matter where an employee’s workspace may be, any area used for working at home must comply with the legal requirements which apply to all workplaces.

As ever, there are numerous legal issues which apply to office-based workers, but if you have employees working at home while still employed, then health and safety remains a fundamental issue.

To assess if a homeworking space is compliant, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is required. This process could perhaps feel like an invasion of the employee’s personal space, if the assessment is carried out by a professional, or even a Manager of the workplace, and they are investigating around one’s home. However, it is possible for the employee to undertake the assessment themselves, providing they have the correct training and direction.

Photo by Infusionsoft, Flickr

Photo by Infusionsoft, Flickr

For inexperienced staff, it is important that they are led through the process and if the individual is required to complete the assessment, consideration should be given as to general safety training.

Keeping an eye

Email / internet use obviously enables better communication between a remote worker and their employer or other colleagues, but does it allow employers to keep an eye on their staff working away from the office and ensure that work is being completed? Do employers have the right to monitor the use of email / internet?

This remains a highly contentious issue and in terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPA), it is unlawful to intercept communications without the consent of the communicating parties.

Ideally, employers need to put together an email / internet policy document in line with the Data Protection Act 1998 and ensure that all workers are aware of it, understand it and then follow accordingly.

Within the policy, details on whether employers are potentially going to be delving into employees’ emails can be included. When it comes to monitoring emails, employers need to be careful and should only monitor messages’ address or heading.

Advising employees that their emails might be monitored for business purposes and then educating them on the terms of the policy is the way forward for employers. Informing employees about what does and does not constitute proper use of the system and explaining that any breach of the policy will result in disciplinary action is also advised.

Look to the future

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) states that technology has meant we’re increasingly on the move and that workers can now adapt to handling their time and workload more flexibly to suit both business and personal needs, which of course if handled correctly, can be a benefit for both employer and employee.

The introduction of the new flexible working regulations enhances the need for employers to recognise the necessity to move towards modern ways of working, and create the right organisational culture and relationship with employees so that requests for flexible working are considered fairly and result in a beneficial outcome.

As flexible working starts to become the norm, it is crucial employers start to get on board with the idea and more importantly, realise that with the right attitude from both parties, working remotely can prove extremely beneficial.

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