Remote working during this pandemic is not remote working as we know it. Employers must understand and acknowledge that employees may be caring for their children or a vulnerable family member or sharing their workspace with others who are also working from home. Such a scenario may result in slower Wi-Fi connections, distractions, and time restraints which may necessitate working outside of normal core hours.
Working from home in the coming months is a reality for a lot of people and it will continue to be a predominant feature of the Irish workplace. Many employers post COVID-19 will be offering work flexibility such as working in an office or from anywhere in the world as it has proved to be an efficient and positive trend. Where it will continue, employers should proactively engage and consult with those employees to identify any concerns or challenges that may have arisen. Businesses should revisit or draft a new remote working policy tailored to suit this current pandemic and the situation that may exist thereafter. Realistic and achievable objectives should be set to suit each employee’s situation, availability and restrictions. A catch up between the employee and manager can be scheduled where an agenda of items can be discussed. (e.g. Connectivity, systems access, equipment, furniture, technology, home and work conflicts, time management).
Many businesses were successful in implementing home working by organising equipment, team meetings and revising their schedule for the annual year. Employers were required to act quickly to implement remote work arrangements. The biggest challenge with this was that there was no preparation for this drastic shift to a digital way of working. Employers should familiarise themselves with the legal and HR considerations for Remote Working to avoid facing claims made by the employee.
Organisation of Working Time Act 1997
To ensure compliance with the Working Time Act, the employee should maintain as close to standard working hours as possible. It is also important that the home worker has regular breaks, a proper lunch break and guards their family and personal time. The employee is obliged to manage his/her working time the same way as he/she would do were he/she working in the office. These obligations remain the same irrespective of whether an employee is performing remote work or office working. A best practice approach would be setting clear expectations, not only with respect to hours and location of work, but also with respect to such things as work deliverables and response time, availability by phone/email during regular business hours and setting those strict boundaries.
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005
The company must provide a reasonably safe place and system of work and will continue to be reasonably responsible for the health and safety of an employee even in a remote office. An employee performing remote work must take care for their own health and safety and that of others, use of equipment properly and as instructed, cooperate with the company on health and safety matters and report any suspected health and safety defects or issues. Undoubtedly the priority has been to ensure remote working is effective. Employers should treat remote work as falling under the application of relevant health and safety legislation and take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of their employees. During this period of Covid-19, employers have been unable to effectively assess, plan and implement health and safety procedures. Now that the dust has settled, employers should manage and mitigate the safety risks mobile workers face by conducting risk assessments and creating effective safety protocols and systems. This risk assessment can be completed through detailed conversations between the employer and employee on their visual display, manual handling, ergonomics, slip/trip/fall risks, fire hazards, stress and lone working. A reasonable approach should be taken to implement control measures to eliminate or reduce those risks.
Data Protection Acts, 1988 to 2018
Employees performing remote work will likely need access to the company’s systems, data and software etc. and the work will necessarily involve the transmission and/or storage of confidential data. Cybersecurity and a risk of a data breach is a continual issue for all organisations. If attainable, the company and employee must ensure that they fully comply with their duties and responsibilities under GDPR and related protection laws as well as those outlined in the company’s Data Protection and IT Usage Policies.
- Keep passwords secure and refrain from sharing user accounts or credentials
- Maintain strict confidentiality of all data correspondence
- Take reasonable care to prevent the loss or theft of mobile devices, laptops and associated
The COVID-19 outbreak should be a strong catalyst for change in the working world. While it has been one of the most disruptive events in our generation, there are many positive effects associated with it. It is important to adopt a healthy and effective remote working strategy to ensure your legal obligations, and to ensure employee engagement.
The SFA have produced a checklist to help you balance your obligations as an employer with the introduction of remote working. The checklist factors in the following key areas:
- Data Protection obligations
- Health and Safety requirements including bullying
- Equality issues to include reasonable accommodation and harassment
- Obligations under the Organisation of Working Time Act
- Updating contracts, policies and company handbooks
Checklist for working remotely