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 those working from home, as well as those who work in the employer’s workplace.
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 working from home 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.
Pregnant employees should follow the UK Government Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for pregnant employees which is applicable in Scotland. Pregnant women of any gestation should not be required to continue working if it not supported by the risk assessment.
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.
Test and Protect contract tracing app
Protect Scotland is a voluntary app that is an additional part of NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect service. Having the app should never be a requirement for any workplace. The app complements but does not replace manual contact tracing. It enhances contact tracing and quickly alerts app users that are at risk as they have come into close contact (less than 2m for 15 minutes or more) with an app user that has since tested positive for COVID-19. Further information about the contact tracing app for employers, workers and customers is available.
We do not recommend the use of temperature checking employees as a means of testing for COVID-19 due to the low efficacy rate of this method. Further information about the reliability of temperature checking as a test for COVID-19 can be found on the MHRA website.
We are providing this information, advice and tools to help you make choices about your day to day activities and interactions including work.
Specific guidance for those on the shielding list can be found at support for shielding on mygov.scot. This includes information on:
- working in current restrictions
- financial assistance
- Chief Medical Officer letters
Vaccination represent an important step in our progress towards a safer return to workplaces. Evidence to date shows it will reduce both mortality and morbidity, however we do not know the extent to which vaccination reduces transmission of the virus from an infected person to others. That is why it is important for businesses and employees to act responsibly, follow FACTS and continue to align their approach with published guidance.
During the pandemic, and while public health stipulates that certain workers should shield, shielding workers should be central to an organisation’s working from home policy.
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. E. Employers should aim to replicate reasonable adjustments as far as possible in a work from home 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.
Planning for a safe return to work should assume that those currently able to work from home will continue to do so. Organisations, working with unions, should seek to develop or review their working from home policy as soon as possible.
When implementing, sustaining and promoting working from home policy, 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 whileworking from home..
Employers should ensure that any existing or new workplace policies on working from home are inclusive, which will include considering what they can do to mitigate the impact that working from home 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 while working from home.
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 working from home particularly where this impacts the remote delivery of services. Employers should also consider which other policies should be reviewed as a result of working from home and carry out these reviews, in consultation with unions, as soon as possible.