Three homeworking risks employers must assess

For complimentary advice on reopening from an expert, our advisors are ready to take your call. Call us on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here. Our coronavirus blog also contains the most up-to-date advice for employers and the latest news.

The COVID-19 lockdown has turned many Irish businesses into remote working operations. With little time to prepare employees for working from home, most employers focused on ensuring that their IT systems had the capacity to facilitate the shift.

We’re now approaching Phase 3 of the Government’s Roadmap to Reopening, meaning it’s time to consider the long-term impact of maintaining your remote work arrangements. Not only that, you also need to address the risks that come with a remote workforce.

To help you begin your remote working assessment, we cover health & safety, data protection, and working time in this article.

Assessing health & safety risks

Ireland’s health & safety legislation requires employers to ensure the safety of employees as far as is reasonably practicable while they’re at work. However, if your staff are currently working from their homes, it becomes a workplace. That means you need to take action to prevent any injuries or ill-health that might reasonably occur while your employees work from home.

Assessing the safety of the employees’ workstations at home is a good place to start. This will ensure that the risk of injury is minimised and that you have complied with your obligations under the health & safety legislation.

Health & safety laws also require you to carry out a risk assessment to identify workplace risks and hazards and to put steps in place to minimise these risks. This process should include feedback from the employee in question about their home workstation or setup.

Here are some questions to check off as part of this process:

  • Are there particular hazards in the home that pose potential risks?
  • Does the workstation have a suitable desk, chair, and screen?
  • Is the room well ventilated and bright enough to complete the work being carried out?
  • Have cables or other trip hazards been addressed?

Your risk assessment should also consider the needs of vulnerable staff. For example, older workers, pregnant workers, and workers with underlying medical conditions must be carefully considered. Employees who live alone may also need help with minimising lone worker risks.

At this point, it would be useful to issue or reissue a health & safety policy to your staff as a means of reminding them of their duty to protect their own safety while at work. That’s because legislation requires employees to take reasonable care to protect their own health and safety and not to engage in behaviour that will endanger themselves or others.

Claims founded on health & safety breaches are also common. They’re often accompanied by personal injury actions and represent a detrimental financial and reputational risk for employers. To defend against such claims, you must be able to show that you’ve taken reasonable steps and consulted with employees on appropriate ways to mitigate risks in their homes and workstations.

Data protection and employee obligations

Putting IT systems in place to facilitate remote work was the early pandemic priority for most employers. With those adjustments out of the way, now is the time to complete any remaining IT risks and remind employees of their obligations under confidentiality clauses in their employment contracts. In a homeworking situation, the risk of disclosing confidential information is particularly high.

Mobile devices provided to staff should have secure encryption and authentication procedures built in. Regarding data protection, the same rules apply equally whether the data processing takes place on-site or on an employee’s mobile device. Remote staff who process data may need to be reminded of their obligations under the GDPR principles and any measures they need to adopt to ensure that data is securely stored.

Working time

Recent surveys have highlighted the difficulties remote workers have in separating their home and work lives. Working from home introduces stresses associated with social isolation and setting boundaries between work life and personal life. To reduce this risk of social isolation, you should encourage regular contact and interaction between colleagues and stay in touch with remote workers yourself. If possible, provide training for managers on how to identify and handle the signs of staff anxiety caused by isolation.

Many employees have also reported working longer hours since their move home. Under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, it’s up to you, the employer, to ensure your remote workers don’t work over and above the daily and weekly hours set down in the legislation. Arguably, the legislation is no longer fit for purpose as a lot of modern work is flexible already. However, as the law stands, it’s your duty nonetheless to ensure your staff take their statutory breaks and rest periods.

A recent EU decision also confirmed that employers must put an appropriate recording system in place to keep track of their employees’ hours. Given that the WRC receives more complaints under working time laws than under any other employment legislation, you should ensure that this particular risk is immediately addressed.

Book a call with a consultant

Complete the form below and a consultant will call you as soon as possible.

Book a call with a consultant

Complete the form below and a consultant will call you as soon as possible.

Latest Resources

Seasonal workers: what employers should know

Seasonal workers
As the days get longer and the skies get sunnier (well, sometimes), summer is on people’s minds. This means that business owners, meanwhile, are starting […]

St Patrick’s Day: Have you prepared for absenteeism?

Published: March 20th 2024 Following national celebrations and public holidays like St Patrick’s day, you could find yourself down several staff members. And – as […]

What Employees Are Entitled to a Public Holiday Benefit & How Are Benefits Calculated?

public holiday
Published: March 20th 2024 From Easter Monday to St Patrick’s Day, Ireland gets ten public holidays and, with them, public holiday benefits. But what if […]

Olga Shevchenko

Director/Advocate, Immigration Advice Bureau

Olga Shevchenko specialises in immigration advocacy and consultancy, in particular, employment permit, visas, family reunification, citizenship, etc, for those seeking to visit, reside or invest in Ireland.

Olga provides extensive information, knowledge, and support to her clients, enabling access to positive solutions for people struggling to handle the immigration law.

Minister Neale Richmond

Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Neale Richmond TD was appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Employment Affairs and Retail Business and the Department of Social Protection in January 2023.

Much of his work at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is with businesses, workers, their representative bodies and the State Agencies to ensure that the economic recovery and growth extends to all parts of the country. He works closely with the SME sector, including retail, on building resilience and on the transition to the green and digital economies.

Mark Carpenter

Director of Regulatory & Corporate Affairs, Sky

Mark Carpenter is Director of Regulatory & Corporate Affairs at Sky Ireland. In this role he has responsibility for External and Internal Communications, Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs and the company’s ‘Bigger Picture’ (CSR) programme. He also works closely with Sky Group teams on a variety of matters, in particular our partnerships with domestic broadcasters.

Prior to working at Sky, Mark worked as a Policy Officer in Houses of the Oireachtas and as a Management Consultant at Accenture. He has a BA in History from Oxford University and a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College Dublin.

Nora Cashe

Litigation and Compliance Manager, Peninsula

Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Managing Director, Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Senior HR Consultant, Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Chairman, Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.