Lauren Sever, Corporate, Commercial & Employment Solicitor, discusses Mental Health Awareness Week and home-working

Lauren Sever, Trainee Corporate and Commercial Solicitor at Davis Blank Furniss

Following the recent announcement from the government regarding the country’s roadmap to recovery from the Covid19 pandemic; employers are being urged to continue to allow their employees to work from home if and where at all possible. At least for the next few weeks, working from home therefore remains the reality for most businesses and their employees. Whilst this will be welcomed by some who have not missed the commute to work and have been able to work in the more relaxing environment of their homes for others it will cause further stress and anxiety particularly if they are having to juggle looking after their young children and their full time jobs. There will also be those in the middle ground who enjoyed being at home more but for whom the novelty of working from home has worn off.

It is therefore more important than ever that employers continue to stay in touch with their employees and are conscious not only of their employee’s rights when it comes to working from home but that employers remain responsible for the health and safety of all employees, even when they are working from home. Particular attention should be paid to the mental wellbeing of all employees especially as this week is Mental Health Awareness Week.

Everyone’s experience of the COVID- 19 pandemic will be different. These are uncertain and troubling times for most and it is vital that employees feel supported, ,know exactly what is expected of them and particularly who they can contact if they are struggling with their work whether for example it is the quantity that is overwhelming them due to colleagues being for example furloughed or if they struggle with IT systems. Having a port of call, weekly catch up calls or zoom meetings will encourage individuals to raise issues and feel more supported.

In addition employers should encourage employees to take regular breaks away from their work stations that they have set up at home, ask them to consider using holidays so they can take time away from work and especially take steps to remain in regular contact with employees that have been furloughed who may feel isolated and out of the loop.

Employers should also discuss working arrangements with their employees and try to be as flexible as possible. This may involve changing hours of work so that parents can look after their children and considering requests for time off to care for dependants.

It may be sensible for employers to adjust the terms and conditions of employee’s contracts of employment to facilitate remote working. In order to implement remote working effectively, employers should provide technological support if possible and introduce more flexible routines and procedures to encourage different means of communication amongst their employees. Employers should also conduct health and safety risk assessments and ensure that they are satisfied that the health and safety of their employees is being maintained.

Another important consideration is the cost of home-working. Many employees will naturally be using more electricity, heating, internet usage, some may even be using their own mobile phones/landlines and may be required to install specific software on their personal devices. In order to reimburse any additional costs incurred by employees in relation to working from home, employers may be able to make tax free payments. However, given the current economic climate, this may not be a viable option for many businesses. Alternatively, an employee can claim tax relief by filing an online P87 form.

For many businesses working from home could be the commercial long term reality going forward.

If you have any queries about home working or any other employment related matters, please get in touch with a member of our Employment team.

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