Yes, this is a strongly advisable.
It is important that employers are consistent in their approach and that requests to work remotely are dealt with in a fair manner in line with a clear policy.
Until the COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, employers will be expected to show flexibility towards employees who are considered "high risk" or employees with family members who are "high risk" by allowing those employees to continue to work remotely, where practicable.
As referred to above there is a Code of Practice dealing with the right of an employee to request home working. Every employer should be familiar with this Code of Practice in preparation for the return to work.
It is important to have a robust remote working policy in place, which reflects best practice and the organisation’s own remote work strategy. The policy should set out the employer’s expectations of employees that work remotely, as well as how remote working is intended to work in practice. This policy should be reviewed continuously and updated as appropriate from time to time.
Employers must remain mindful of their obligations under the Safety, Health and Work Act 2005, which continues to apply in the same way they do for employees who attend the workplace. Employers should develop a specific remote working risk assessment to be completed by employees. This will form part of an assessment of the employee's home-working station to ensure the employee has a safe place of work.
Key points include:
- How to apply for homeworking, including what employees will need to be able to demonstrate in order to be successful with an application.
- What equipment will be needed and the employee's responsibilities with regard to the equipment.
- Clear guidance on data security and confidentiality.
- Health and safety issues when working from home.
- The right to review the situation.
Other Issues to consider include:
- The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 continues to apply to employees who work remotely. Employees are entitled to their usual breaks and rest periods as set out in the legislation and are not permitted to work more than a maximum of 48 hours per week, over a set reference period.
- Employers continue to be required to maintain certain records of working time for remote workers, under the working time legislation. Therefore, employers should establish (where not already in place) a system to monitor working hours, breaks and rest periods to ensure that they do not inadvertently fall foul of the working time legislation. As the lines between work and home life can become blurred at times for employees working remotely, it is important that employers ensure that employees are taking the appropriate breaks/ rest periods and remind employees to take such breaks.
- Employers are encouraged to review and update internal employment policies as necessary to ensure that they are fit for purpose in the context of remote working. For example, internal disciplinary and grievance polices should be updated to allow for meetings to be conducted remotely, where necessary.
- Separately, employees should be reminded of the various polices that apply notwithstanding that some or all employees may be working remotely i.e. dignity at work/ anti-bullying and harassment policies.