Homeworking boundaries for staff and parents in lockdown

Andrew Masters

Partner & Head of Employment

View bio

April 27, 2020

Categories Coronavirus (COVID-19)Employment Law

How are we holding up?

Homeworking in lockdown has not proved to be as good as some thought.

Over the past month or so employees have had to undertake an enormous adjustment to their working practices, while employers struggle to come to terms with the financial threat to their businesses. In the second blog on homeworking, we look at time management issues and the extent to which homeworking is possible for those supervising children who would normally be at school. This follows the results of a two week survey published by People Management on 7th April 2020 carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) reporting that half of those working from home are unhappy in the situation, with 48 % putting in longer, irregular hours.

Enforcing work and home boundaries

A well worn issue arising with homeworking is the inability to switch off from the working day. All reminders of ‘work’ are in the home, from the ominous sight of the business PC to the phone calls often diverted to private mobiles.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR 1998) place a limit of 48 hours on the average working week. Although UK workers can contract out of the 48 hours, they cannot contract out of daily and weekly rest breaks. For their part, employers should be taking reasonable steps to enforce and monitor these breaks – a requirement which is imposed not only by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 but by regulation 4(1) and (2) WTR 1998.
Workers should have, as a minimum, the following rest periods:-

  • 11 hours’ of uninterrupted rest per day;
  • 24 hours’ of uninterrupted rest per week (or 48 hours’ of uninterrupted rest per fortnight; and
  • a rest break of 20 minutes when working six hours a day.

We encourage managers to look out for signs of overwork and of stress. Given that some employees will be caring for children and others in their home, stress levels will be running high and tolerance low. Employers should be mindful of this when allocating work.

  • Set out the times when employees are expected to be available.
  • Encourage them to put away devices and log off at the end of their contracted hours.

How are we holding up?

The latest People Management and CIPD survey asked respondents about their biggest challenges in relation to staff working remotely. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) pointed to staff’s ability to balance home working and parenting commitments.  As part of the government’s measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 children of all but key workers are being schooled at home.

For employees with young children and/or large families this is no easy feat. They are likely to be supervising the children to some extent during the day and of course carrying out their usual parental responsibilities from cooking, organising play to breaking up siblings at war.

  • Do keep in touch with these employees on a regular basis establishing how they are, how they are coping and how the homeworking arrangements and demands are working for them.
  • It is also important to provide for flexibility, allowing them to work outside of traditional hours if they need it.
  • Be mindful of single parents who will be finding the current situation extremely challenging and in some cases impossible to manage with work demands.

Where this is not possible, options to consider include part time hours and furlough. We now know, as of 15th April following the Treasury’s Direction to HMRC, that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme iis not limited to those employees who would otherwise be made redundant. It applies to any who are furloughed “by reason of circumstances as a result of coronavirus or coronavirus disease” (para 6.1(c)). It may be worth considering this option for those who are finding homeworking entirely incompatible with domestic responsibilities.

For further advice on furlough please contact the Furley Page Employment Team


Related article >> https://www.furleypage.co.uk/the-physical-strains-of-homeworking-in-lockdown/

Related article >> https://www.furleypage.co.uk/active-steps-to-support-employee-mental-health-when-in-lockdown/