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Employees Working from Home? Employers Should Remember These Three Obligations

Employees Working from Home? Employers Should Remember These Three Obligations

Working from home has proved to be favourable amongst employees and employers. However, it is important to remember that while the working environment has changed, your obligations as an employer must stay the same during the “new normal” working week.

This article will address three obligations that you must remember to uphold while your employees are working from home, as well as suggestions you may find useful to give effect to those obligations.

Health and Safety

When employees are working from home, the home is considered a workplace and employers have the same health and safety obligations as if they were coming to work. Just like the office or the usual workplace, the home has many hazards that could potentially jeopardize the employee’s safety and ability to perform his or her role remotely.

That is why you must remember your obligations as an employer to ensure the safety of your employees when they are working from home.

A suggestion is to adopt a working from home policy with health and safety guidelines that are easily adaptable to the home environment. For example, you may include a requirement that your employee’s workspace must be comfortable and hazard-free. Consider things like posture and regular stretching to avoid strain and fatigue. Not only will this increase or maintain productivity, but this also ensures that you are upholding your health and safety obligations as an employer.

Many employees will continue to use their makeshift offices while working remotely. It is important that you, as the employer, ensure that you have assessed and eliminated or mitigated risks that come with this.

Obligation to Consider Flexible Working Requests

The demand for flexible working arrangements is on the rise in New Zealand. As an employer, you must remember that you are under an obligation to consider flexible working arrangements when requested by an employee and respond within a specified timeframe. There may be some employees who require additional flexibility when working from home.

Your obligation as an employer is to consider all flexible working requests in a manner that is consistent with the Employment Relations Act 2000. That is, to acknowledge receipt of the request and respond to it no later than one month after receipt. Remember that you must consider all requests in a fair and reasonable manner.

Even if your employee has not made a flexible working request, it is important to consider the impact of any temporary changes that may have occurred during lockdown.  Although your employee may be working from home, this may not necessarily mean that your employee has completely adapted to this arrangement.

For example, an employee may find that they are more productive if they only work from home a few days a week as there may be too many distractions at home. Alternatively, another employee may find that they are more productive when working from home full time because of the distractions in the workplace. A common one is to provide flexible working hours for employees with children or other dependents.

Employsure recommends that you seek advice from a trusted source on how to appropriately consider and respond to flexible working requests from employees. Failing to do this may result in an employee claiming that you have not considered their statutory right under the Employment Relations Act to request a variation of their working arrangement.

Acting in Good Faith

As an employer, your obligation to act in good faith goes beyond the scope of maintaining a relationship of trust and confidence with your employees. Remember that you are also under an obligation to maintain productive employment relationships with your employees in a manner whereby both parties are communicative and responsive.

You would be correct to assume that this may be more difficult when working remotely, given that your employees can only be reached by digital means. That is why you need to establish effective communication methods when managing ‘virtual’ employees.

A suggestion is to establish multiple means of communication with your employees. An effective means of communication is to arrange and attend regular meetings through video conferencing software. This is the closest alternative to face-to-face meetings and is a great way to get your dispersed employees together and communicate the same messages in one sitting.

Further, you should encourage your employees to keep their mobile phones charged and close at hand in case you or other employees need to make quick and direct contact with one another. This is also useful where employees experience technical or connectivity issues; a text or phone call will inform the appropriate person of any remote issues.

Remember that effective communication will ensure that you and your employees stay in regular contact and will also ensure that you are meeting your obligation as an employer to maintain productive, communicative and responsive employment relationships with employees. This will also enable you to keep track of overall productivity and expectations of your employees.

In conclusion, you must remember your obligations as an employer even though your employees may be working from home. Adopting a working from home policy with health and safety guidelines, considering all flexible working requests and maintaining effective communication will enable you to meet your health and safety and good faith obligations.

For more information or help in managing employees already working from home, or for advice on how to make remote or other flexible working arrangements, contact Employsure on 0800 675 700.

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