Working From Home: Legal And Safety Issues

     
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Over the last few years, many UK universities have assessed risks associated with staff working from home. What they have found may surprise academics who have never thought about this activity as “risky” in any way. This article discusses how to minimise problems, for both staff and those who manage them.

Key issues include:

Data protection.

“Staff may have remote access to information held on secure campus servers, but without either the physical protections available on campus or the network protections provided by firewalls and access controls there are greater risks of unauthorised access to information and loss or destruction of data,” the University of Reading (2014) notes. “There is also a greater risk to information while in transit from remote locations to the University campuses.” Note: leaving student essays or paper files on the kitchen table also falls under these rules. Encrypt it, and lock it up when not using it.

Unauthorised use of employer property

If you, your teenager or spouse uses your workplace-issued laptop to download or post something offensive online, you could be disciplined or legally liable.

Theft of employer property or data. 

Make sure you know what to do if this happens, and take precautions—especially if you occasionally work on the road, at conferences, or in public places such as libraries or cafés. 

Health and safety

If you are working at home with your employer’s knowledge and permission—and you should be—then your home becomes an extension of the workplace. That means you must ensure your computer setup isn’t harmful, and take regular breaks. Accidents on the job must also be reported. For academics whose off-campus role includes fieldwork, consult with your professional body or research manager about additional risk assessment.

Insurance issues. 

Unless you have informed your employer and gained approval in advance, you may not be covered under their insurance policy should something go wrong. Homeworking does not make you immune from stress-related illness, occupational injury, or personal accidents. 

Mortgage and landlord issues. 

It seems bizarre in an era where homeworking is common, but some mortgage and tenancy agreements specifically prohibit “running a business” from the premises. Whether working from home breaks these rules is up to your landlord or mortgage company. Ask before you start. 

Special notes for contract employees.

If you are working on contract as a visiting or adjunct lecturer, marker, or self-employed administrative worker, you must carry insurance that specifically covers your activities.

You will also be responsible for assessing and managing your own risks. Be sure to include social and professional isolation as a potential risk, and act to minimise it.

There are many benefits to homeworking, ranging from less time and petrol spent on commuting to employee work-life balance. As long as the risks are known and adjusted for, it’s s a fantastic option for many. If your university does not have a homeworking policy, or if you think yours could be improved, have a look at the Oxford Brooks, University of Reading, and University of London policies listed under References for good examples.

REFERENCES

Oxford Brookes University (2014) “Homeworking implementation guidelines for applicants and managers.” Online at: https://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/hr/health_safety/homeworking.html  [Accessed 14 February 2014]

University of London (2014) “Home working / Teleworking.” Online at http://www.london.ac.uk/4134.html [Accessed 14 February 2014]

University of Reading (2014) “Remote Working.” Online at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/imps/DataProtection/DataProtectionGuidelines/imps-d-p-encryption-remote-working.aspx [Accessed 14 February 2014]

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