This toolkit provides guidance for protecting the health, safety and welfare of employees working from home. It provides links to key information and templates on the website.
What is homeworking?
Homeworking is where employees work full or part time from home or in other premises of their choice — not the workplace.
Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, employers have a duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees, which includes homeworkers.
What should you do as an employer?
1. Assess the feasibility of working from home
Obviously, a proportion of workers have switched to homeworking due to lockdowns and the pandemic and, in many cases, the transition had to be made quickly. In non-pandemic circumstances, however, the organisation would first undertake a feasibility study to investigate the costs and benefits of homeworking, and whether the job can be done properly away from the workplace. See Part 1 of our Homeworking Viability Checklist.
2. Perform a risk assessment
Although generally low risk, homeworking is not exempt from the law, and so a risk assessment should be carried out on the home environment. The risk assessment will identify any measures needed to prevent harm to the employee, as well as anyone else affected by their work (eg other members of the household). Part 2 of the Homeworking Viability Checklist can help with this.
Employers can remotely work through a risk assessment with members of staff or ask staff to conduct their own assessment using a template and guidance.
The obvious risk is musculoskeletal strain due to badly set up display screen equipment (DSE). The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 place specific duties on employers covering the use of DSE. DSE assessments should be conducted for employees who are DSE users and work from home, whether or not the workstation is supplied in whole or in part by the employer. See our Workstation Assessment — Self-assessment form.
Note, however, that the Health and Safety Executive has said that a workstation assessment is not required for those working at home temporarily during the pandemic. “Temporarily” is not defined, and as working from home may have continued on and off for nearly a year for some employees, we recommend that a DSE assessment is undertaken to identify potential risks. If the employee has only a laptop, it may be time to provide a proper keyboard, mouse and monitor to work with.
Organisations may need to undertake other types of health and safety risk assessment, depending on the work activity, such as manual handling or hazardous substances. All equipment and PPE needed for the job will need to be supplied. If substances are needed for the work or generated by the work, they will need to be assessed and safe storage supplied if required. A first-aid kit will be needed in some situations.
3. Consider connectivity and IT support
Support your employees in exploring ways to boost their broadband speeds, if that is an issue, or to make the most of home internet. Suggestions include switching off the automatic WiFi connection on devices that are not being used, staggering family activities such as streaming films, and using an ethernet cable to connect the computer to the router so they are not relying on a WiFi signal.
Make sure employees are aware of who to contact if they have IT problems. They may previously have asked nearby colleagues for help with IT issues, so procedures and resources need to be in place to address any problems — and there will be problems.
4. Ensure security
Working from home brings additional cyber security issues. Many organisations are using VPNs and two-step authentication to add an extra layer of security. Check that staff have completed any necessary cybersecurity training and:
have strong passwords on their accounts
know how to use software, and that there are written FAQ documents and guidance
are using devices that are properly encrypted
know what to do to maximise the security of information and also what to do if any device is lost or stolen.
Clarify the situation in terms of whether the employee can use DSE provided by the employer for their own use out of work hours.
See the Information Protection and Cyber Security topic for more information.
5. Consider fire safety
House fires are much more likely to occur when people are at home. When considering the home office, ways to prevent fires include:
only using laptops on a hard surface to prevent over-heating
using equipment provided only as instructed
making sure electrical equipment is turned off at night
avoiding “daisy-chaining”: plugging multiple extension leads together
not using counterfeit or incorrect chargers for electrical devices.
Employees working from home should also check that they have working smoke alarms that are tested once a week.
6. Encourage activity
As well as sitting correctly, moving is also an important part of maintaining good musculoskeletal health. In the typical office, people are much more likely to have situations where they need to walk around — as part of their commute, to go to a meeting, or to speak to a colleague. Many of these workplace opportunities to stretch the legs have now been lost, so as well as taking breaks from looking at a screen (as required by the DSE regulations), encourage staff to take a regular breather to get up and move around.
Where the team, or part of the team, is working from home you need to create a culture that fosters visibility and communication. In fact, people need to overcommunicate. In the office you glean a surprising amount of information from off-hand comments from colleagues or overhearing others discussing an issue. Set basic ground rules, such as a daily team meeting, and encourage team members to ring each other to discuss issues, rather than relying solely on email.
Team bonding and communication can be improved though online socialising: video chats while eating lunch or social online events in the last hour on a Friday, for example. These can not only encourage communication but help stave off isolation and loneliness.
Note, however, that different people have different preferences for communication. Some need a higher level of interaction when working from home, while others thrive on the ability to structure their own time. Also, remember there is such as thing as video-conferencing fatigue.
8. Promote good mental health
All employees should be aware of the importance of a work-life balance. Having clear start and finish times helps create work-life boundaries, as can creating a dedicated workspace. More one-to-one management/staff member meetings can help to remove bottlenecks and draw a line under the working day. Employees should also understand that they do not have to be constantly available.
Managers should be trained to spot the signs of mental ill health and to know where to refer staff who are struggling, eg the company’s Employee Assistance Programme. See our Line Manager Guide to Mental Health.
Managers can help support good mental health in homeworkers by:
regularly checking in on them to ask how they are doing
setting up a group channel in Microsoft Teams or What’s App so everyone can stay in touch
creating an environment where employees feel able to talk about problems
encouraging people to work within the hours they should
being flexible with working hours, to give flexibility to employees who have children at home or just to allow workers go for a walk outside in daylight
reward and reassure staff, making sure they know that they’re valued.
9. Monitor and review
Any risk assessments should be reviewed at regular intervals as usual, and particularly if the nature of the risks or the tasks performed change.
Managers should periodically ask staff to take time to think about what is working and what needs changing, and act on the feedback to improve processes and lines of communication.
10. Adjust company policies
Consider whether you need to adjust company policies (sickness, holidays, accident reporting, etc) to take homeworking into account.
11. Other issues
Other subjects that may need to be considered include:
legal restrictions on employees’ homes forbidding non-domestic activity on the premises
insurance of homeworkers and equipment (does your liability insurance cover them?)
expenses, eg electricity
accident and incident reporting procedures and emergency procedures
changes to contracts
tax implications for employees
Last reviewed 26 February 2021