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A Legal Perspective on Working at Home

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The benefits of working from home have become increasingly recognised by both employees and employers. It allows businesses to relinquish expensive office space, while workers benefit from the convenience and efficiency of telecommuting.

Yahoo’s decision to ban working from home and the ensuing publicity has highlighted the extent of the practice; less publicised have been the important legal issues that arise.

The Employment Contract

Employment contracts stipulate the lawful changes that can be made to employees’ circumstances such as working hours and location. Commonly, employees request to work from home due to childcare, poor health or mere convenience, but there is no legal right to work from home.

Although, parents of children under sixteen have a statutory right to request “flexible working”, which could include working from home, this does not guarantee the changed circumstance. However, employers will have to give a substantial reason for rejection.

If an employee successfully requests home working, the employer should agree to amend the existing employment contract to reflect the new working arrangement. Both parties should ensure that any change provides adequate legal protection by seeking expert legal advice.

Businesses – Considering Applications for Home Working

Businesses must, if an employee requests to work from home, consider an application on its merits; making a decision objectively and on reasonable grounds. Failure to exercise caution may risk exposure to a discrimination claim.

In addition to an awareness of statutory “flexible working” claims, reasonable care must be exercised regarding a general ‘work at home’ policy. A company which has employees working from home, must establish fair and consistent grounds for permitting employees to do so. It is recommended that the company has a clear business reason to justify any refusal. If you are unsure of your legal position, you should consult legal experts, or you risk exposing your company to liability.

Home Working Risks

Employees working from home maintain similar rights to those working in the company office space, which raise a number of issues. Firstly, home office spaces need to comply with Health and Safety requirements similar to the employer’s premises; this remains the responsibility of the employer. Secondly, employers have a positive duty to ensure that employees working from home take rest breaks and work no more than 48-hour week. Thirdly, the need to safeguard confidential information, in accordance to EU date protection laws, must observed regardless of work environment.

These obligations are often overlooked when a transition of work location is made.

Conclusion

Overall, business considering the transition of workers from office to home (or vice-versa) should ensure that existing employment contracts can accommodate this change and that appropriate measures are in place for compliance with legal obligations. Failure to do so could result in legal action by an aggrieved employee or another party.

If you would like more information about the legal implications of home working, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can advise you. Please contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail ABalgobin@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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