Homeworkers Policy Making

Homeworkers

1.0 Introduction

2.0 Terms and conditions

3.0 Managing the employee and their work

4.0 Training

5.0 Communications

6.0 Health and safety

7.0 Equipment and facilities

8.0 Expenses

9.0 Responsibility

1.0 Introduction

This policy details the arrangements for and the conditions on which homeworkers are employed by Birkbeck to work from or at home.

Birkbeck employs, in certain circumstances, individuals who solely or mainly work from home where, for contractual purposes, their work base is their home (this does not include Sessional Lecturers). Birkbeck reserves the right to agree to an employee working from home on a trial basis. If such homeworking proves problematic or unsuitable to Birkbeck’s operational requirements and business needs, then the arrangements may be discontinued at Birkbeck’s discretion.

Birkbeck will put in place certain arrangements to assist homeworkers in the effective carrying out and performance of their duties.

Where an employee wishes to request to work from home they must refer to the Flexible Working policy.

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2.0 Terms and conditions

The basic terms and conditions on which homeworkers are employed will be as set out in the offer letter and in their Statement of Terms and Conditions of Employment. With the exception of the place of work, these will be comparable to “office” based employees.

All Birkbeck policies and procedures will also apply unless it is clearly stated to the contrary. Homeworkers must refer to Birkbeck’s policies, all of which are contained in the Staff Handbook, which has been provided to the homeworker.

The homeworker will be required to work the hours specified in his/her Statement of Terms and Conditions of Employment.

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3.0 Managing the employee and their work

Reviews of work will take place regularly between the homeworker and his/her line manager.

Personal work objectives or targets will be agreed between the homeworker and his/her line manager and should reflect his/her expected contribution towards the College’s overall goals.

The homeworker will be advised in advance of the date of any such meeting, which will usually be held at Birkbeck’s premises.

The purpose of the meeting will be to assess the progress of work allocated to the homeworker and to receive feedback on any problems or concerns the homeworker may have with respect to the work, the arrangements for and the facilities provided to him/her for the carrying out of such work.

In addition, staff development scheme meetings will be conducted each year by the line manager as detailed in Birkbeck’s Staff Development Scheme.

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4.0 Training

It is recognised that the majority of training occurs within the normal working environment - where employees receive operational training, coaching, detailed procedural guidance and day-to-day advice. Because homeworkers do not have access to this informal training, special consideration will be given to support the development of homeworkers.

All new employees are invited to a Birkbeck induction and all homeworkers are encouraged to attend. However, if this is not possible they will be sent any appropriate documentation from the event.

Where a homeworker has to attend Birkbeck or other premises in order to receive appropriate formal or informal training, overnight accommodation may be provided where necessary. An individual training and development plan will be prepared for each homeworker by his/her line manager in line with the staff development scheme. Where possible training and meetings will be arranged within the local area.

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5.0 Communications

5.1 Birkbeck recognises the importance of effective communication and has put in place a communication system whereby staff are informed and kept up-to-date with events and also have an opportunity to air their views and problems.

In this way information moves downwards through Birbeck to the workforce and upwards to the policy and decision makers.

Homeworkers in particular need to have effective and continuous access to this communication system so that they are able to identify with the team or unit to which they belong, also to Birkbeck as a whole and so they can participate in Birkbeck’s affairs and events.

5.2 Homeworkers will therefore be sent or have access to the following publications/information:

  • Internal Vacancy notifications as displayed on the intranet.

  • ‘Staff News’ produced by the College Secretary contains information on the College’s performance, social events, personnel changes and other current events.

  • Any internal or inter-staff memoranda applicable to homeworkers.

5.3 The line manager of the homeworker will, support him/her as and when needed and provide an additional source of communication and advice. Regular contact should be maintained between the homeworker and their line manager, this may be over the telephone, by e-mail or in person.

5.4 The most important aspect of the communication process is the need for personal interaction between the homeworker and the other members of his/her department. In addition to the compulsory work review meetings, homeworkers will be invited to attend and/or contribute to meetings and to meet colleagues in order to keep in touch with the College on a social level.

5.5 Homeworkers will be asked to give their consent to their contact details (either telephone, emails or home address) being used for the purposes of Section 5.

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6.0 Health and safety

Birkbeck will arrange for a risk assessment of the work activities carried out by homeworkers. Where necessary, the risk assessment will be carried out by the line manager in the homeworker’s home. Homeworkers may also assist in the identification of hazards, (consent to reasonable access).

Following the completion of the risk assessment, the College will consult with the homeworker as appropriate and take such steps as are necessary to prevent harm to him/her, or to anyone else who may be affected by his/her work.

The statement of Health and Safety Policy, March 2005 is available at www.bbk.ac.uk/so/policies/safetypolicy, and all employees are expected to familiarise themselves with this policy as this contains further information relating to the employee’s and Birkbeck’s health and safety responsibilities.

Additional information can be found on the following websites:

www.bbk.ac.uk/so/

www.bbk.ac.uk/so/policies/home

Homeworkers should be advised that Birkbeck is only responsible for equipment supplied by Birkbeck. It is the homeworker’s responsibility to ensure that all electrical sockets are safe. For further advice, please contact Birkbeck’s Health and Safety Officer.

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7.0 Equipment and facilities

To facilitate the effective carrying out of a homeworker’s duties Birkbeck will provide equipment as appropriate to the needs of Birkbeck and to the work undertaken. This may include some of the following:

  • telephone;

  • fax machine;

  • laptop/desk top computer;

  • computer software/licences;

  • printer;

  • photocopier;

  • desk and chair;

  • filing cabinet(s);

  • desk stationery;

  • Birkbeck letter paper and other stationery;

  • writing materials.

Line managers will be required to complete a checklist identifying what equipment will be required, and an inventory will be kept by the line manager as a means of recording the equipment supplied. The employee will be required to sign for the receipt of any equipment provided.

The equipment supplied will remain the property of Birkbeck, employees are required to store equipment safely and responsibly. The equipment must be returned to Birkbeck in the event that the homeworker leaves Birkbeck’s employment. Homeworkers are not required to take out additional insurance to cover Birkbeck equipment, however, they are advised to check that their home building and/or contents insurance(s) are not invalidated by working from home or by the storage and use of Birkbeck equipment at home. Any additional costs to the homeworker’s insurance, as a result of working from home, will be met by Birkbeck, where evidence of the additional costs is provided.

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8.0 Expenses

8.1 Equipment and services

The homeworker will be entitled to receive reimbursement of any costs incurred in the provision of services connected to the work activity that are agreed with his/her line manager, as necessary to carry out his/her role.

In all cases reimbursement of installation and rental costs will be subject to Birkbeck being satisfied that these items would not have been installed, but for the employee’s obligation to Birkbeck and that the employee actually incurs the costs. Examples of provisions may include:

  • installation and rental costs of a telephone;

  • outgoing telephone calls made on Birkbeck business;

  • installation, rental costs of a fax machine and operational costs;

  • installation and rental costs of modem/broadband connection;

  • costs of postage and couriers with the proviso that the latter cost must only be incurred where a delivery has to be made on an urgent basis. All other mail should ordinarily be sent second class unless instructed otherwise.

No more than one installation charge per employee will be reimbursed. Employees will make their own arrangements for any installation required.

Payment of telephone, fax and modem accounts will be the responsibility of the employee who, after making the payments, may claim reimbursement.

Reimbursement will be made on the basis of a quarterly expense claim form being submitted as detailed in Birkbeck’s Reimbursement of Expenses Policy.

8.2 Travel

Travel between the homeworker’s home and Birkbeck’s premises or any other location visited on behalf of Birkbeck is regarded as business travel and will be reimbursed. For all claims for reimbursement of travel expenses, staff should submit a Birkbeck Expense Claim Form.

8.3 Additional home expenses

Any additional home expenses such as heating and lighting, which are incurred as a result of working from home will not be reimbursed by Birkbeck.

8.4 General

Birkbeck will not be liable for any increase in the homeworker’s mortgage payments or any similar liability as a result of the homeworker working from home and as may be imposed by a building society or similar lender. The homeworker is advised to ensure for his/her own information whether there may be any consequential increase or effect on his/her mortgage payments.

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9.0 Responsibility

All those persons referred to within this policy are required to adhere to its terms and conditions. They must understand that this policy is also incorporated into their contract of employment.

Individual managers are responsible for ensuring that this policy is applied within their own area. Any queries on the application or interpretation of this policy must be discussed with the Human Resources team prior to any action being taken.

This month on 19 May it is “National work from home day”. So what should employers be aware of if they want to facilitate homeworking? Akshay Choudhry of Burges Salmon LLP examines the legal and practical considerations.

National work from home day is organised by Work Wise UK, a not-for-profit organisation aimed at making the UK a more progressive economy by encouraging smarter working practices. Cutting out the commute by allowing people to work from home can be a win-win; offering opportunities for the employer to reduce/reallocate office space and, for the worker, the benefit of valuable time-savings.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 13.9% of the UK’s workforce were homeworkers in January to March 2014, up from 11.1% in 1998, and the proportion of the UK workforce working from home is likely to rise as employers increasingly recognise that flexible working, including homeworking, can bring benefits to their organisation.

Homeworking may mean working exclusively from home, but the term “homeworker” can also be used to describe those who divide their working time between home and their employers’ premises, work at home on an occasional basis, or are mobile workers who use their home as an administrative base. Whatever the precise arrangement, there are a number of issues for an employer to consider.

Changes to employment contracts

It will normally be appropriate to tailor a standard employment contract in order to reflect any homeworking arrangements. In some instances, it may also be sensible to put in place specific policies to cover off some of the more practical arrangements.

Particular changes to the contract to consider include the following:

Place of work – if the employee will be predominantly working from home, the normal place of work will be the employee’s home, although the contract should also include a provision that the employee can be required to attend the office as necessary. There should also be a provision for what happens if the employee moves house – particularly if the move is further away from the office which may have financial implications for the employer (see “expenses” below).

Hours of work – specify when the employee will need to be available for work. For example, will the employee be required to observe strict office hours, have complete flexibility over when they work, or have certain “core hours” when they must be available. Will they be required to account for their time and if so, how?

Salary and benefits – you should take care that homeworkers are not treated less favourably on grounds of any protected characteristic. For example, if an individual is working from home because of ill-health and receives less favourable benefits than a comparable office-based employee, they may claim disability discrimination. Ensure, for example, that they have access to work related benefits (such as the staff canteen or workplace gym) even though they may not use them regularly.

Expenses – consider whether or not employees will be entitled to expenses for travel to the office or a contribution towards telephone, broadband, heating and lighting costs. Other expenses to consider include postal/courier costs, stationery costs and photocopying/printing costs. If certain conditions are met, payments by employers to reimburse employees for reasonable additional costs incurred as a result of homeworking can be tax exempt.

Confidentiality and data protection – this can be difficult to supervise remotely so include an express term to address what is considered confidential information and the necessary protections required (such as passwords, encryption, a secure filing cabinet, a shredder etc) and make sure data protection obligations are maintained. If the employee is using their own computer/phone ensure you have a right to monitor work communications on those devices.

Equipment – will the employee require specific equipment to perform their work? If so, who will provide and pay for this equipment and who is permitted to access it? Will the equipment need to be insured and, if so, whose responsibility will it be to arrange and pay for this?

Right to enter – do you want include a licence to enter the employee’s home (on reasonable notice) in order to install, maintain or service any company equipment, or retrieve it on termination? A right to enter may also help enable you to carry out risk assessments for health and safety purposes, although legal advice in terms of enforcing this right would be needed if the employee (or another person) was refusing entry.

Trial period – consider allowing the homeworking for a trial period, and include this in the contract, so you can assess whether or not the arrangement will work in the longer term. It is also worth including the right to require the employee to revert to office-based working.

There are also practical considerations to consider when agreeing to a homeworking arrangement.

Health and Safety

An employer is responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare so far as is reasonably practicable. This means that employers must conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees, including those working from home.

Whilst most homeworkers will be doing low risk, desk-based jobs, you should ensure appropriate risk assessments are conducted both at the start of the homeworking arrangement and periodically thereafter. Consider how you might regulate stress levels, how to ensure rest breaks and other working time obligations will be met, whether specialist equipment is required or needs to be safety tested, first aid arrangements, and reporting work-related accidents. The Health and Safety Executive provides useful guidance regarding homeworking.

Equipment

Generally speaking, there is no legal obligation on an employer to provide the equipment necessary for homeworking. However, it is advisable to consider this on a case-by-case basis – particularly where the employee may suffer from a disability and the provision of such equipment could be considered a reasonable adjustment.

Most employers will provide basic equipment at least. For example, most will want homeworkers to use only company computer equipment to ensure compatibility as well as maintenance of virus protection and other security measures. It may also be sensible to provide the homeworker with a dedicated telephone line.

If the employee will be using their own computer equipment, agree whether or not the employer should pay for its maintenance, repair and fair wear and tear.

Data protection and security

Carry out a risk assessment of the data protection implications of homeworking. This would include consideration of the following:

  • Who might have access to the employee’s computer?
  • Is the employee’s home adequately secure?
  • What rules do you have regarding encryption, use of passwords, and the transfer of data between home and office?
  • What rules do you have in place regarding the retention of data?
  • What measures should be taken against accidental loss, destruction or damage?

Reporting and performance reviews

Out of sight should not mean out of mind. Adapting your reporting and review procedures, as well as individual management styles, will be important both for the homeworker – who may otherwise feel isolated and without support – and the employer – as you will need to monitor the quality and/or quantity of the homeworker’s output and retain the relevant level of control over the relationship.

Consider formalising the contact that homeworkers should have with their manager (for example being required to report in at least once per day/week). You could also require homeworkers to attend the office for regular meetings.

Public liability insurance

Check your employer’s liability insurance covers employees working from home. Make sure your actions (or any lack of action) don’t invalidate the insurance.

Mortgage provider consent

Remind the homeworker that they must have consent from their mortgage provider to work from home.

Tax

The mere fact that an employee is working from home should not change their tax status – you should still deduct income tax and national insurance contributions as normal.

However, you may advise the employee:

  • to check any potential council tax liability as a result of homeworking;
  • that some of their homeworking expenses may be tax deductible;
  • that, in limited circumstances, they may be entitled to a tax deduction in respect of the expenses of travelling from home to the office; and
  • if computer equipment provided by the employer is used for anything more than “insignificant” private use, a tax charge may arise.

Working time

Normally, time spent by an employee travelling to their place of work would not count as “working time” under the Working Time Regulations 1998. However, where the employee’s normal place of work is their home and they travel to their employer’s premises or to see clients/customers, this could count as “working time”. You will need to ensure that homeworkers do not exceed the 48-hour limit on their working week when travel is taken into account (or that they have opted out of the maximum hours’ cap).

The war for talent is alive and well and people are demanding to work differently. With employees increasingly welcoming the opportunity to work from home, employers that are able to offer this should reap the rewards from this competitive advantage.

About Akshay Choudhry

Akshay Choudhry is an associate at Burges Salmon LLP.

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