Health and safety
- risk assessment
- workstation safety
- equality considerations
- homeworking policy and protected characteristics
- protection from workplace harassment and abuse
Employers are responsible by law for the health, safety and welfare at work of their workers and these responsibilities apply wherever their staff are working. Arrangements for the welfare of employees must provide for homeworkers, as well as those who work in the employer’s workplace.
As the number of cases of COVID-19 in Scotland have fallen significantly, from 31 July we have been able to amend our advice. We have paused the advice that those who were identified as being at highest risk of the virus should shield. This means those who were shielding can go back to workplaces where they cannot work from home. Working from home and working flexibly where possible should remain the best option for people who had been shielding. Employer’s should support people to safely return to work and ensure they can stringently follow public health guidance around physical distancing and hygiene. An individual risk assessment guidance and tool has been developed help staff and managers consider the specific risk of COVID-19 in the workplace.
There may be a requirement to revert back to some level of shielding in the future at either a national or local level if the number of cases rise again. Those who previously had to shield will be kept informed of any relevant health advice if things do change. See: shielding advice
If an employer is asking their employees to work from home, consideration must be given to the type of environment they are being asked to work in.
Caring responsibilities, multigenerational households - which may be a particular issue within certain minority ethnic groups, space constraints and noise levels are just some of the considerations that need to be taken into account. Assumptions should not be made that everyone has a suitable place from which to work at home, this should be explored with each employee.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have produced a short guide on working safely during the Coronavirus outbreak that can help to support employers with what they need to do to comply with the law. HSE have also developed specific guidance for employers to protect home workers, including lone working, stress and mental health, and work with display screen equipment.
Employers’ legal responsibilities will in some circumstances require consultation with health and safety representatives selected by a recognised trade union. Employers are encouraged to work with trade unions or workforce representatives to explore health and safety implications of home working. They should ensure workers feel their work can be carried out safely at home, that they have the correct equipment, stay in regular contact with them and make reasonable adjustments to support them. Management of both mental and physical health should also be encouraged.
A homeworking risk assessment should be conducted and should not be a one off exercise, rather part of regular dialogue between employers and employees working from home. Trade union or workforce representatives can help with this process and can identify what measures are working, where refinements are possible and any gaps remaining. Reviews of measures and risks should be frequent. The open and ongoing engagement between employers and trade union or workforce representatives should enable adjustments to be made quickly.
Employers must also protect their workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment. This applies to workers who use a DSE daily, for an hour or more, and also includes home workers.
- do a DSE workstation assessment
- reduce risks, including making sure workers take breaks
- provide an eye test if a worker asks for one
- provide training and information for workers
Advice on the safe use of display screen equipment is provided by the Health and Safety Executive.
During the pandemic, and while public health stipulates that certain workers should shield, shielding workers should be central to an organisation’s homeworking policies.
Consideration of health circumstances and protected characteristics should be included as part of the risk assessment process during and following the COVID19 pandemic. Permission should be sought from individuals before collecting any information on health conditions of those within their household.
Employers should consider involving and communicating appropriately with workers and especially those with protected characteristics to ensure that they are not exposing them to a different degree of risk, or taking any steps that may be inappropriate or challenging for them.
Consideration should also be given as to whether any particular measures or adjustments are required to fulfil duties under the equalities legislation. The requirement to make reasonable adjustments applies when working remotely as it does in the workplace, to avoid disabled workers being put at a disadvantage. Employers should aim to replicate reasonable adjustments as far as possible in a homeworking setting but it may be necessary to put in place a process to assess the needs of disabled workers for example, such as an occupational health assessment of their home working space.
Evidence suggests that the effects of COVID-19 are felt disproportionately by some groups (Minority Ethnic communities, older people, and women for example). Employers should ensure that they provide practical support to all staff where they are anxious about protecting themselves and/or their families.
The health and safety risks for new or expectant mothers should also be assessed – the EHRC have advice for employers on this while the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have guidance for new and expectant mothers themselves.
It is important to make sure the steps implemented do not have an unjustifiably negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities or those with specific protected characteristics.
Organisations, working with unions, should seek to develop or review their homeworking policy as soon as possible.
When implementing, sustaining and promoting homeworking policies, employers should recognise and address issues that arise from their employees working in a different working environment. Some individuals may have different needs and requirements, especially those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 (Age, Disability, Gender reassignment, Marriage and civil partnership, Pregnancy and maternity, Race, Religion and belief, Sex, and, Sexual orientation).
Understanding and addressing equality issues can avoid all the different types of unlawful discrimination. An individual’s employment support needs may be also be affected by caring or health commitments, housing situations or levels of privacy at home, which may affect performance expectation if not addressed appropriately. Flexibility around start and finish times may help people continue to work and care while homeworking.
Employers should ensure that any existing or new workplace policies on homeworking are inclusive, which will include considering what they can do to mitigate the impact that homeworking will have on, for example, those with caring responsibilities (which disproportionately affects women), disabled workers, and minority ethnic workers. In particular, employers should be aware that their responsibility to provide reasonable adjustments for employees continues during home working.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Scotland can provide advice on a range of issues such as:
- reasonable adjustments for disabled people and communication with employees on equality issues
- support for pregnant employees or employees on maternity leave
- flexible working for those with caring responsibilities
- how to deal with harassment at work
EHRC have also produced guidance for public sector employers about equality impact assessments and having due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and Scottish Specific Duties during the pandemic.
Creating a safe and welcoming environment, where everyone is respected and valued, should be of upmost importance to an employer. Working remotely can however make some individuals feel vulnerable. Video conferencing has been one of the main methods of communication throughout the crisis, however it may expose, for example, the socio-economic differences between colleagues if parts of their home are on display that they would rather were not.
Employers should be aware that communication tools, such as video-conferencing and instant messaging, can facilitate forms of bullying, harassment and particularly sexual harassment. Employers should therefore make every effort to ensure employees understand the conduct that is acceptable over these forms of communication, and have policies, co-developed with workers, in place.
Close the Gap, through their Think Business Think Equality toolkit, have produced guidance on:
- employers supporting employees affected by domestic abuse during the pandemic
- general online self-assessment resource for employers on domestic abuse
- guidance for line managers on supporting employees affected by violence against women during the current crisis
For those organisations subject to safeguarding legislation and policies, these should be reviewed. Employers, working with unions, should review safeguarding policies and procedures in light of homeworking particularly where this impacts the remote delivery of services. Employers should also consider which other policies should be reviewed as a result of homeworking and carry out these reviews, in consultation with unions, as soon as possible.