The physical strains of homeworking in lockdown

Andrew Masters

Partner & Head of Employment

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April 22, 2020

Categories Coronavirus (COVID-19)Employment Law

How are we holding up?

For some it’s a welcome relief but for others we’re feeling the strain.

Before Covid-19, studies on homeworking pointed to greater job satisfaction, more control of the working day, and improved productivity. But this feedback focused on people who, for the most part, chose to work from home.

On 7th April 2020 People Management published the results of a two week survey carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). It reported that half of those working from home are unhappy in the situation.

What are the main challenges and how should employers respond?
“As far as is reasonably practicable” an employer is responsible for an employee’s welfare, health and safety, (section 2(1), Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974).

So how are we holding up physically?

Sadly not too well…

More than half of respondents in the IES Survey reported new aches and pains associated with bad posture, including in their necks (58 per cent), shoulders (56 per cent) and backs (55 per cent).

Not helpful when they cannot access the physiotherapy they might need.

The makeshift ‘office’ created by employees in lockdown may be far from perfect. From dining tables that are too high, coffee tables that are too low, collapsing ironing boards, upturned crates and the dressing table, its no wonder employees are reporting an increase in aches and pains.

The Heath and Safety Executive have put together guidance and a short demo on ‘Temporary Homeworking – Workstation Set Up‘

It provides illustrations and a video on the correct posture, screen height, where to position the keyboard and mouse. If no guidance has been sent to staff yet, this is essential.
Where possible, staff should be allowed to take their office equipment back with them to their homes. The office chair, a separate keyboard and mouse will all help ensure the correct posture and alignment when working remotely.

Why not organise remote workplace assessments?

Many healthcare providers are now offering remote workplace assessments via video conferencing platforms. If your staff have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) it would be advisable to contact this provider to see whether they are providing this service.

Put in place adjustments for disabled employees

For employees with physical disabilities, the provision of equipment (or reimbursement for the employee’s equipment expense) may be required as a reasonable adjustment under section 20 Equality Act 2020.

The Business Disability Forum has helpfully compiled a number of resources in its Covid-19 hub with information on supporting disabled employees to work from home.  Do check it out at and speak with their staff about remote workplace assessments for disabled staff.

It is worth noting that where a disabled employee is ready and willing to work from home, if the only barrier is the lack of suitable equipment which could be provided, an employer should be arranging for it. Furloughing a disabled employee in this situation, rather than allowing them to work could amount to discrimination under Equality Act 2010.

This may take a while to get used to. However, with positive support and commitment, businesses can make this transition a more positive one for staff and in the long term the lessons we take away could change our workplaces for the better.

For further information contact an employment law specialist in our legal team on 01227 763939.