Working From Home

by Barbara Buffton

What needs to be in place

Under the flexible working rules that were introduced by the Employment Act 2002, parents with children aged under the age of six or disabled children under the age of 18 are given the right to ask their employers to seriously consider requests to work flexibly. Employers are not under a legal obligation to grant such requests, but are required to consider them seriously. See the section on flexible working in Employment Contracts.

Employers also need to consider requests for home-working from employees who are not eligible to make an application under the flexible working rules, in order to avoid a potential discrimination claim. For more information on this, go to the Department of Trade & Industry website at www.dti.gov.uk.

Having decided to offer the possibility of home-working, it is wise to think through all the issues and put together a company home-working policy.

Company home-working policy

A written policy helps companies to clarify all the relevant issues and sets out exactly how home-working will operate. It helps both employers and employees know what is expected of each other and makes an invaluable reference should any particular difficulties or problems arise.

The content of such a policy may include some or all of the following issues. If your company takes a more informal approach, use these issues as a checklist as you consider whether to adopt home-working practices. It does not claim to be a definitive list, but it will certainly help kick-start the process.

Company requirements

All home workers, whether contractual or informal arrangements exist, should be expected to comply with your company policies and procedures, in particular to those regarding data protection, confidentiality, IT security and health and safety issues.

You will also want to define the scope of the home-working, for example whether it is to be on a full-time or part-time basis.

Risk assessment

Employers need to carry out an initial risk assessment of a employee’s home in order to identify and assess potential hazards. It is then important to factor in regular risk assessments from then on. You can download Five Steps to Risk Assessment from the Health & Safety Executive website at www.hse.gov.uk. There is more on this in the topic on Health & Safety.

Security issues

Guidance needs to be given to the employee on how to secure data and protect computer access. You must also ensure that the employee is given adequate facilities, equipment and knowledge to back up digital files and store paper documentation.

Equipment

The risk assessment and evaluation of the home workspace will determine what equipment needs to be in place for the home worker. There also needs to be guidelines on what to do in case of equipment failure and how to ensure it is maintained and kept fit for purpose.

Communication

Agreement needs to be reached on how best to keep the lines of communication open and with what regularity.

Identification of individuals

The company should decide whether the option of home-working is to be offered to certain individuals and/or to allow self-selection. Once someone has asked to work from home, it might be worth checking that they are suited to home-working. See also What kind of person best suits home-working?

Setting targets

It is vital that you and the employee agree work targets before they work from home and then on a continuing regular basis.

Monitoring and review procedures

These need to be made clear in advance. Set out and agree how you will monitor and review the work.

Dealing with problems/issues

The home worker needs to know in advance any procedures or guidelines that will help should they encounter problems, both within office hours and outside of office hours.

Insurance and tax

The employee must be made aware of the insurance and tax implications of working from home. You should always check these as each individual case can be different.

Give the employee guidelines on what to do to ensure that they and any work equipment are covered by insurance if they are considering working from home. The usual practice is to inform the home insurer, although the employer might take on the responsibility of paying any extra premium involved.

There are other costs associated with working from home. For instance, if the employee is at home for twenty hours per week whereas they would normally be at work, their heating and lighting costs will increase. These are costs that they would not incur if it was not for their employment. As such, it is only logical that the costs can be claimed as tax deductible expenses.

Who can claim?

The question ‘who can claim?’ is often more difficult to answer than ‘how much can be claimed?’ It very much depends on the circumstances. As a general guideline, the following need to be satisfied:

  • There can be no personal choice about working from home. It must be a requirement of the job.
  • There must be no workspace available elsewhere.
  • Living at a distance from the employer in itself is not actually sufficient reason. However, for someone like an area salesperson, this may well be a valid reason.
  • It is also not actually sufficient if the employer asks the employee to work from home, unless the other criteria are satisfied. However, it does usually strengthen their case if they are asked to do so.

How much can be claimed?

It is clearly difficult to quantify the amount that can be claimed. How can you apportion the amount of heating you use when you are working from home? How much more electricity does a computer use than, say, a television?

The Inland Revenue recognises this and has devised a series of calculations to overcome the problem. Quite simply, allowable costs are apportioned as to the number of rooms in your home, and possibly the number of hours you work from home.