What is the New Normal?

As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown period, many employees were requested to continue to undertake their duties and responsibilities from their homes in order to qualify for the continuation of full or reduced remuneration entitlements. With us now having returned to Level 1, and the majority of employees returning to their pre-COVID work arrangements, many businesses are still open to negotiating ‘working from home’ arrangements with their staff.

Part 6AA of The Employment Relations Act 2000 does allow for employees to request flexible working arrangements for a specifically defined purpose and although technically a ‘working from home’ request may fall under this category, a company may elect to have a specific policy in place to enable this to occur on a more informal basis.

However, allowing employees to work from home is not as straight forward as it may seem as there are a number of considerations that the employer will need to take into account if this is to become a regular practice.

Such considerations will include:

  • Will this become a contractual term and condition, or will this flexibility be provided solely at the discretion of the employer?
  • Will this be a practice that can exist on a regular basis (i.e. each Friday), for a defined period (i.e. a specific body of work to complete) or will it be available whenever the employee is unable to be within the office (i.e. sick or childcare issues)

In approving a regular arrangement for an employee to work from home, the employer is also agreeing to a variation in the ‘location of work’ clause within the employment agreement with the employee and for that reason the employee’s personal residence does become a place of work for the purposes of The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. This means that the employer has to ensure that arrangements are in place to ensure:

  • The employee takes regular rest and meal breaks
  • That the employee’s workspace is suitable to enable and ensure the effective and safe performance of their duties.
  • That work equipment is correctly installed
  • That issues associated with security (working alone – isolated employees) are taken into consideration

Other considerations that could emerge as a result of such arrangements may include:

  • Is travel from the employee’s house (while working from home) to a client site now deemed to be reimbursable business travel?
  • What will be the agreed hours of work and how will these be monitored?
  • What arrangements need to be put in place to ensure the security of company/client documents and records?
  • Will the employee be entitled to have clients visit them at home?
  • How will other personal commitments during usual working hours impact on the arrangements?
  • Does working at home impact on the employee’s personal insurance, business insurance or rental obligations?

Working at home arrangements have many benefits for both employees and business however, as evidenced above, if this is to be a regular practice it is not as simple as the employee taking their laptop home and setting this up on the kitchen table.

If this is going to part of your ‘new normal’ we recommend that you have a formal policy in place that covers off all of the above issues. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions regarding this or would like to obtain a copy of our Working from Home Policy.

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