Working from home as a consequence of the Covid 19 pandemic has led to unanticipated areas of concern from an employment law perspective. The two principal areas giving rise to concern are to do with:
- Health and safety
- Data privacy/GDPR
The two statutory bodies in Ireland with responsibility for health and safety and data protection-the Health and Safety Authority and the office of the Data Protection Commissioner-have published useful guidance in this area.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005
Generally, the employer’s duties regarding the employee’s workspace continues in force as set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. These duties include ensuring the safety, health and welfare of employees, the provision of safe systems of work, safe equipment, risk assessments, and information/instruction regarding health and safety.
The employee has duties, also, and must cooperate with the employer, follow instructions and procedures, protect themselves as well as possible and report any injury without delay.
Regarding home working the responsibility for health and safety remains with the employer and he must ensure there is a suitable workspace and equipment and a means of contacting the employer.
Equipment already used in the workplace can be used for home working, provided it is in good condition and suitable. The employer must check with the employee that the workspace is satisfactory and that there is adequate light, heat, ventilation, sufficient space, free of clutter, and so on.
There are further considerations to be taken into account when the employee is a vulnerable worker or has a disability or is pregnant-that is, the employee is in a sensitive risk group and there are further guidelines on the HSA website (see link below).
When employees are using computers and digital technology the employer should consider doing an ergonomic assessment of the workspace. This could involve the use of a questionnaire from the employer to employee in the first instance and then an ergonomic risk assessment depending on the results of the questionnaire.
Employers should also consider regular contact with employees, arranging IT support if necessary, regular communication and feedback and contact details are up to date and there are agreed means of contact. The psychological aspects of working from home and perhaps a sense of isolation cannot be overlooked and the employer should maintain regular contact with the employee.
The employee, too, has responsibilities for her own safety and must cooperate with the employer and keep in regular contact, agree the work to be done, and identify the equipment you need to set up a safe work station at home.
The employee must ensure that she has adequate ventilation, heat, light and maintains a clutter free environment. The equipment the employee will need should be identified including stationery, phone headset, mobile phone, laptop, and so on.
It is most important for the employee to keep in regular contact with the employer as it is in the interests of both employer and employee.
Data privacy and protection
The Data Protection Commission has issue guidelines regarding working from home.
The safeguarding of devices, effective access controls, keeping the device locked up when not in use, ensuring devices have necessary updates, and fast reporting arrangements if a device is lost or stolen are areas to be looked at.
The usual precaution concerning the use of emails and ensuring you use work related emails for work emails is advised, along with ensuring you follow the employer’s applicable policies concerning email and internet access.
Employees need to be careful about accessing to cloud services and/or the employment network of the workplace, the use of logins being hacked/compromised, and so on.
GDPR relates to all records concerning personal data, including electronic and paper records. Therefore you need to be prudent and cautious about the secure storage and maintenance of paper records, especially records with personal data such as health data.Guidance from the Office of the Data Protection Commission can be found on this page