Mobile working regulations in the United Kingdom

1. Is there any legislation relating to working from home in your country?

There is currently no specific legislation relating to work from home, however the general health and safety requirements outlined below extend to home working. 

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) employers are under a duty to do all that is “reasonably practicable” to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workforce. This duty extends beyond the employer / employee relationship and extends to contractors and temporary workers. There are also a number of regulations which employers must comply with, including the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (which require employers to conduct risk assessments) and the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 (which requires employers to conduct workstation assessments). These duties extend to those working from home. A failure to manage health and safety is a criminal offence with potential liability for both individuals and organisations. This means the courts can impose unlimited fines on organisations and individuals, as well as imprisonment for individuals and disqualification of directors. There is also the ever-present risk to organisations of individuals pursuing civil claims for personal injury, where employers fail to engage with these risks.

Specific good practice and Health and Safety Executive (the UK safety regulator) guidance has been developed to assist employers in understanding the practical implications of their duties in relation to homeworkers. This guidance has been updated in light of COVID-19:

  • It states that as there is no increased risk from display screen equipment for those working at home temporarily employers do not need to do home workstation assessments for those working temporarily at home. However, employers should provide workers with advice on completing their own basic assessment at home and simple steps to reduce the risks of workat home. Although this HSE guidance remains the same, in light of this extended period of homeworking, even if it is not intended to be a permanent arrangement, organisations should consider what measures they have in place to manage the risks associated with display screen equipment.
  • It emphasises that employers should keep in touch with homeworkers and ensure that employers or managers have regular direct contact with home workers in order to recognise signs of stress as early as possible and ensure that adequate supervision and support is provided. It also advises that employers should provide an emergency point of contact to workers so that they know how to get help if they need it.
  • Employers should try to meet all specialist display screen equipment needs. Employers may also be required to provide equipment to employees as a 'reasonable adjustment' under the Equality Act 2010.

2. How can working from home be implemented in a company, e.g. through collective bargaining agreements, unilateral decision, or employment contracts?

Work from home can be implemented through individual agreement with employees or in line with an employer's policy. 

3. Can an employer force an employee to work from home?

Generally, an employer has no right to impose work from home unless it is a clear requirement of contract or policy from the outset. However, in the case of exceptional circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, work from home can be required in accordance with the Government's legislation and guidance although different approaches are taken across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and will depend on the type of workplace.

4. Can an employee force an employer to allow him to work remotely?

No, an employer is not obliged to agree to an employee's request to work from home. 

An employee can make a request for flexible working either as a statutory request (under s.80F of the Employment Rights Act 1996) or a non-statutory request. There are specific eligibility criteria and steps which must be met as part of the statutory request process. Flexible working may also be governed by the employer's policy. An employer can reject an employee's request if there is a valid business reason for doing so. The legislation contains eight statutory reasons why an employer may refuse a request. An employer who refuses a request to work flexibly in the UK would also need to be live to any risks of indirect or direct discrimination. For example, if a mother requests part-time hours for childcare reasons, then an employer should be prepared to objectively justify why this was not possible in order to defend any potential challenge on the grounds of discrimination. 

5. Does an employer have to provide the employee with office equipment and supplies for remote working?

Employers are required to provide the equipment and technology to employees to enable to them to do their job. It is not regarded as reasonably practicable to provide employees with a full suite of office equipment.

However, employers should try to meet all specialist display screen equipment needs. Employers may also be required to provide equipment to disabled employees as a 'reasonable adjustment' under the Equality Act 2010.

6. Does a company have to reimburse an employee for expenses while working from home?

No, an employer is currently not obliged to reimburse the employee for work from home expenses. However the company may choose to cover some expenses.

If an employer reimburses an employee for personal expenditure on homeworking equipment this is ordinarily taxable as a benefit. However, from 16 March 2020 and for the 2020-21 tax year, a temporary tax and NIC exemption applies ensuring that no tax liability arises where employers reimburse employees’ personal expenditure on home office equipment arising from arrangements to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is provided that equipment is obtained for the sole purpose of enabling the employee to work from home as a result of COVID-19 and it would have been exempt if it had been provided directly to the employee by the employer. The employer needs to keep records to evidence that it has reimbursed the costs.

The UK tax authority, the HMRC, says that employers can also offer eligible home workers tax free payments to cover the additional costs of homeworking. The flat rate payment is £26 a month, and a more complex arrangement exists for reimbursing actual additional expenditure.

An overview of expenses which can be claimed as a result of employees working from home due to COVID-19 is summarised here.

7. Does an employer have to grant an employee a specific work-from-home allowance? If so, under what conditions can an employer not pay such an allowance?

No, an employer is not obliged to grant the employee any allowance. 

8. Is an employer responsible for ensuring proper working conditions from a health and safety perspective for employees who are working remotely?

Yes, Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations provides that employers are required to carry out risk assessments for their workers. This applies to risks where the worker is working from home, even if that is not their only place of work or, for example, they only work from home one day a week. It requires employers to "make a suitable and sufficient assessment of (a) the risks to the health and safety of [their] employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and (b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking".

However, whilst a risk assessment may be carried out by a trained health and safety person visiting the individual’s home, this is not mandatory, particularly where the work is low risk, office based work, where the individual is not working with hazardous machinery or materials. It will still be “suitable and sufficient” if the individual carries out the risk assessment themselves where they have had some training or guidance on this. The individual should then follow a risk assessment process, for example set out in a form provided by the employer where hazards and risks are identified, and later discussed with the employer. 

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identifies five steps required for carrying out a workplace health and safety risk assessment. These are:

  • Identify the hazards;
  • Decide who might be harmed and how;
  • Assess the risks from the hazards and decide on appropriate precautions;
  • Record any significant findings; and
  • Regularly review the risk assessment and revise as necessary.

The individual should be advised that risk assessment is an ongoing duty, so steps should be taken by the employer to facilitate the reporting of any changes. 

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) also places a duty on employers to ensure the work equipment they own, operate, and have control over is safe to use at all times. 

9. Are there any other specific obligations for the employer?

The homeworker has the same rights as any worker working in an employer's premises. Employers should be particularly aware of the different work-related stress considerations which working from home may have on the workforce and the associated impact on their mental and physical health. 

10. Does an employee need to be insured to work from home?

It is mandatory for employers to have Employer Liability Insurance; every employer carrying on business in Great Britain must maintain insurance (with an authorised insurer) against liability for bodily injury or disease sustained by its employees, and arising out of and in the course of their employment in Great Britain. An employer's policy should cover employees working from home. 

As a result of COVID-19, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has issued guidance to confirm that individual home insurance cover for office-based workers will not be affected by working from home during the COVID-19 crisis. For anything over and above clerical or office work, employees are advised to contact their insurer to discuss specific insurance requirements. If employees receive any visitors at their home for business matters, they should check with their insurer what is covered. ABI update the guidance regularly, which can be found here https://www.abi.org.uk/products-and-issues/topics-and-issues/coronavirus-hub/home-insurance/

When employees are able to return to work but choose to work from home more often in the longer term, they are advised to check whether they need to inform their insurer of the change to their working pattern.

Further to the risk assessment of the worker's home, should they suffer an accident or illness, whether the employer is liable will depend on the circumstances and whether the risks could have been prevented by implementing any measures to reduce the risks involved. A UK employer is not generally liable for a worker’s personal equipment, and workers are also under a duty to take reasonable care to avoid injury to themselves. 

12. Is the employer permitted to charge employee claims for “working-from-home cost reimbursements” against his/her saved expenses (saved expenses could include the employee’s reduced costs for transportation, gasoline, lunches in restaurants and dry-cleaning charge)?

No.

13. Are there any other specific obligations on the employee?

Employees have duties both under the HSWA and associated regulations and at common law. Employees must take reasonable care to avoid injury to themselves or to others through their work activities, and must cooperate with their employer and others in meeting statutory requirements. The HSWA also requires employees not to interfere with or misuse anything provided to protect their health, safety or welfare. 

Employees must report all employment-related hazards to their employer and ensure that their homeworking environment stays suitable and appropriate in line with the risk assessment.

14. Any other comments?

We may see further changes to the law on flexible working. In 2019 the Government carried out a consultation on supporting families which included a proposal to encourage employers to advertise all jobs as flexible from the outset, and to be transparent about family related leave and pay and flexible working policies through making these public.

In the Queen’s Speech in 2019 the Government said that the Employment Bill would include measures to make flexible working the default working arrangement unless an employer has a good reason not to. No details have been published since then.