Working from home - are you essential?

Friday 15th January 2021

It has been reported this week that Ministers are stepping up pressure on businesses to make sure that all non-vital staff are working from home. The TUC are also urging businesses and the Government to ensure home working is required where the role is not critical and cannot be done off site.

The allegations are that some businesses are threatening their employees with unpaid leave if they do not come into work. This however, leaves employers vulnerable to several types of claims including possible automatic unfair dismissal and unlawful deduction of wages claims.

The question however is always how do you justify which roles are vital and which are not when considering if they need to be carried out onsite.

Some roles are obvious – construction, estate agents, manufacturing – elements of these roles cannot be carried out from home. But what about when it comes to those in offices. Generally speaking low level administration roles i.e.. actually putting the letters in the envelopes will need to be carried out on site but if these roles are carried out by junior members of staff then they need appropriate supervision.  

The best step an employer can take is to carry out a job evaluation – which elements of a role or task need to be done in the workplace and could they be adapted to be able to deal with them differently (using email instead of post is an obvious step). Then assess who actually needs to perform those essential elements – could they be grouped together for a period of time with duties adjusted to minimise the number of people in the workplace?

Do not forget your health and safety risk assessment. As well as taking into consideration covid risks and the social distancing requirements you also need to consider things such as lone working and work environment assessments.

Whilst this may seem like more paperwork at a time when businesses have other things to cope with – it can be a very useful step in dealing with enforcement action or defending your position should an employee bring a claim. It will also assist in the clear communication with staff that is essential to ensure that you have them on board with trying to save businesses in what is otherwise a worrying time for all.

For assistance in your employment law needs contact a member of our Employment Team on 01384 811 811 – we give practical employment advice.