Adviser trade body hosts webinar on issues relating to working from home and a potential return to the office

Trade association the Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association conducted a webinar entitled Lockdown and Return to Work on March 4, where the expert presenter was Chris Holme, employment lawyer and partner and Clyde & Co. He explored issues relating to working from home and a potential return to the office as restrictions ease.

Although the Government has announced a series of dates for lockdown easing, and various things are scheduled to change on March 29, April 12 and May 17, Mr Holme highlighted that none of these have direct relevance to working from home. Instead, he expects firms will be encouraged to return to offices at some stage during the spring. Meanwhile, the current position is that individuals must not leave home for work unless they cannot reasonably work from home.

The webinar took place the day after the Budget, where a series of support measures for businesses included an extension to furlough and a new Recovery Loans Scheme.

For many firms in financial services, home working practices will be well established and will most likely have been in place for the last 12 months. Nevertheless, Mr Holme took the opportunity to highlight that firms should have home working policies that encompass:

  • Risk management issues
  • Health & safety considerations
  • Employees’ working hours
  • Provision of equipment
  • IT security
  • Security of information in paper form, e.g. measures to make sure confidential information isn’t seen by other members of the household
  • The policy on using company IT equipment for personal reasons

Mr Holme then turned his attention to the issues related to a potential return to the office. It will, of course, not be obligatory to re-open the office immediately once the Government encourages it. Some firms might opt to delay the return, while others could choose a phased return or some form of switch to permanent working from home.

Although the Government will not advise office workers to return until the threat from Covid has reduced further, any return to work must involve the firm carrying out an appropriate risk assessment and taking appropriate measures to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Firms may have already been in this position last summer following the end of the first lockdown.

Firms may need to consider whether it is appropriate to ask any vulnerable employees to return to office working immediately. There may also be other issues, such as childcare – as staff might no longer be comfortable with sending their children to elderly relatives while they are at work. However, an employer can legally insist that anxious employees return to the office if there is a genuine business case as to why this is necessary.

Some final points for consideration raised by Mr Holme were:

  • Firms might like to reflect on their experiences of managing home working, especially on how easy it was to supervise employees. Is this the way they would like to do things in the longer term?
  • If there is to be a move towards more home working, then the firm may not need as much office space
  • Firms should remember that anyone has the legal right to request flexible working, and that there may now be more requests of this nature, because some people will have got used to working from home, not commuting etc.
  • A switch to permanent home working will require changes to contracts of employment
  • If the future arrangements involve some staff working from home and others operating from the office, management must consider how to keep home workers engaged