Home working has been steadily increasing over the past decade, with the number of people working from home now reaching four million, according to the United Kingdom (UK) Office for National Statistics.
Editor’s note: While this article discusses legislation specific to the United Kingdom, it makes good points about safety precautions every employer should take into account when employees are telecommuting from home.
This change is largely thanks to technology that has made it easier for people to carry out their roles wherever they are based. It is also partly due to government policies aimed at encouraging people with disabilities to work.
New legislation in the UK, which came into effect on 30 June 2014, looks set to further add to the rise. Now, all employees in the UK have the legal right to request flexible working, which includes working from home.
As a business owner or manager, you will know that you must handle requests for flexible working in a fair and reasonable manner. This means that you can only refuse an application if there is a good business reason for doing so.
The same rules apply if your employee is disabled, and you risk discriminating against them if you fail to properly consider their request to work from home. Permitting home working for a disabled employee may feel like a leap into the unknown, and seem to be an undue risk for your business. Maybe your fears range from worrying about what would happen if your disabled employee had an accident, to how can you be sure their work environment is safe.
In fact, you will find that home working can bring many benefits for the disabled worker. Advantages include the fact that they have more control over their environment (and may have already made some modifications to their home that make day to day life easier). It also helps them to avoid unnecessary travel, which can be difficult, stressful and time consuming.
Your business may benefit too. According to the UK Health and Safety Executive research, companies who employ home workers found it led to higher levels of commitment from staff.
Making your employees feel looked after and valued as individuals means that you are also more likely to retain skilled and experienced team members, thus avoiding unnecessary recruitment and training costs.
Add to this decreased office overheads, improved green credentials (from reducing employee travel) and an enhanced reputation for being known as a caring and flexible employer, and it can make a great deal of sense for your organisation.
However, the employer cannot afford to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to home working. You will need to take a few simple actions to ensure that you are covered and your employee is able to make the most of the potential benefits.
Firstly, you must be aware that it is the employer’s responsibility to carry out a risk assessment to check that the proposed work area is suitable. This can include looking at ventilation, temperature and lighting as well as the particular requirements of the individual.
The Health and Safety Executive has very useful online tools that can help you with this.
The next step is to take any appropriate measures to reduce the risks that you have identified. You will need to take a similar approach to in the workplace, where you will be accustomed to making reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.
You must ensure that the actual work space is adequate for the worker’s needs and provide any suitable work equipment, such as a properly set-up work station and IT equipment.
A good employer can also support their disabled employee by looking at how their house meets their needs, which is especially important when it becomes their place of work too. This useful resource from Chartwell Insurance is very helpful for looking at ways of modifying the home to make it suitable.
There are many ways a house can be altered to improve mobility and safety that would also benefit the work area. For example, wheelchair users may need the installation of threshold covers (small ramps) over the entrance of doors to ensure easy access around the house.
Your employee may be interested to hear that it is possible to obtain Disabled Facilities Grants from the government, to help with the cost of certain home modifications.
Once home working has started, there are many good practice guidelines that will help make it successful. These include staying in regular contact to avoid feelings of isolation, and carrying out regular reviews of how it is working for both parties.
With a little thought and care, home working really can work for your disabled employees and for your business.