Working from home is one clear way of keeping staff safe from the virus and any new variants that emerge.
UNISON believes that home-working and hybrid working should be options for flexible working, in particular to better manage work/life balance.
An introduction to Hybrid working
Hybrid working is a combination of home-working and attendance at the normal workplace. It may also be called remote working, agile working, smart working, mobile working or teleworking.
But many homeworkers have struggled with their working environment, limited equipment and IT, inadequate workstations, back and neck pain, fatigue, stress and burnout resulting in poor physical health and deteriorating mental health.
Some workers have found that it has made them become invisible within the workforce, unable to progress in their career, unable to access training, reducing their social connections, leaving them feeling isolated, unable to ‘disconnect’ from their work and creating health and safety risks for them.
Employers may have an expectation for staff to work excessively long hours when working from home. For some people, it may feel that there is no separation between their work and personal lives.
For flexible working to be a positive experience for both employers and staff, UNISON believes it must be truly flexible and truly a choice, and not just limited to home working or hybrid working.
How are job roles selected as suitable for home working?
As well as the needs of the job role, your employer should ideally consider your individual needs. Enforcing home working for all could potentially disadvantage some workers who struggle with the arrangement.
Everybody’s home circumstances will vary considerably.
For example, some people may lack space and privacy; others may have a poor internet or mobile phone signal; there may be an increased risk of domestic abuse with less time apart from an abuser; disabled workers may be lacking reasonable adjustments that have been provided in the workplace.
On the other hand, for some disabled workers home working could provide a reasonable adjustment in itself, under the Equality Act 2010 (In Northern Ireland, this requirement is enshrined in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995).
It may allow some to better manage their impairments without the rigidity of the work environment.
Employers continue to be responsible for the health and safety of their workers whilst they are working from home.
A starting point would be to check that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance for employers on health and safety for homeworkers is being followed.
It is important that you should raise any health and safety concerns with your line manager as soon as possible.
You should know how working from home risks are to be assessed.
If you work on a computer or laptop at home your employer should ensure that a display screen equipment (DSE) assessment is carried out. This can be done by a self-assessment.
You must be given training and guidance to help you assess your own work environment and identify problems.
If you regularly work on computers, you are also entitled to a free eyesight test and additional free glasses for computer work if recommended by your optician.
Your employer should also assess and reduce any risks of work-related stress from home working. Measures taken to reduce the risk include providing support from managers/supervisors, facilitating regular contact with colleagues, monitoring workloads and having good communication mechanisms in place for homeworkers.UNISON Guidance on Hybrid working
- Your employer has a legal duty to carry out risk assessments and act on their findings. You can help by reporting any potential dangers. If your employer ignores you, you should speak to your UNISON safety rep.
- You should ensure you take proper rest breaks? The Working Time Regulations 1998 require workers to take a 20-minute rest break if working more than six hours per day.
- You should take regular breaks away from your computer screen? It’s important to take breaks to reduce the risk of eye and muscle strains. The Health and Safety Executive advise 5 or 10 mins every hour.
- If you are disabled, has your employer provided the same reasonable adjustments when you work from home such as equipment, BSL interpreters for online meetings, software, specialist phone?