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HR troubleshooting for the new norm of homeworking - Margaret Adewale of HR Dept Gloucester

By Margaret Adewale, director of HR Dept Gloucester 

As we come out of the pandemic, the new norm for many will be homeworking.

However, what do lockdown restrictions and the huge shift to homeworking mean for employer liability when an employee does wrong? Margaret Adewale, director of HR Dept Gloucester explains below.

The technical term is vicarious liability, and it still applies even though employees may not be as visible.

Particular risks include: a GDPR data loss as work is done in environments and on equipment over which you have less control but for which you are still responsible; and a health and safety breach if you haven't properly managed the safety risks to staff working at home.

There are also new risks to take account of, even if you are still operating from the office: for example, if staff wilfully ignored a requirement for self-isolation, thus exposing colleagues to risk of infection.

The starting point for managing these is having robust policies and thorough risk assessments. These will help you put the systems in place to manage risk, and the frameworks to deal with the fallout should a risk turn to reality. It is also essential to communicate these effectively to employees. Indeed, in the case of home working, each employee should be involved in their own risk assessment.

A key test of vicarious liability is whether the wrongdoing was done whilst acting in the ordinary course of employment, so it is helpful to keep this in mind when devising policies and risk assessments.

With all the lockdown rules, there is more of a blurring of the borderlines between when something is a work matter or a private one. If an employee breaks a household mixing rule, for example, should the employer get involved?

If rules are broken, each case should be taken on its own merits. If the action brings the employer into disrepute or risks the health of others, then it is likely to be appropriate to follow your disciplinary procedures with gross misconduct a possible outcome.

Do be careful, though, to conduct a thorough investigation: what appears to be an open-and-shut case may not be as straightforward as it seems.

There could be mitigating circumstances, and there are exceptions to lockdown rules that touch on sensitive subjects like private health issues and domestic violence.

HR Dept is here to help and support you through any HR concerns/queries, so do not hesitate to call Margaret on 01452 405280, email margaret.adewale@hrdept.co.uk or visit www.hrdept.co.uk/gloucester.

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