Checklist: 10 Ways to Ensure Duty of Care for Remote Employees in 2021

Anna Kotlabova
. 6 min read
Legal obligations vary by location and employers should ensure they are familiar with their specific duty of care obligations.
The COVID-19 pandemic expedited a trend toward more flexible work which had been underway for years. A year since the first lockdown, most people who can are still working from home.
Remote work is becoming more and more normalised — an entire cohort of new graduates have known no other type of workplace. The traditional 9 to 5 work week in the office is predicted to become a thing of the past as employees get used to the flexibility.
While remote work benefits both parties — employers save rent money and employees save time by not commuting — the new system poses some serious questions for duty of care to employees.
Duty of care refers to the legal obligations that employers have to protect employees from harm as a result of their work. Remote workers may work at home full-time, work ‘in the field’ part of the time, or only occasionally travel for work. Regardless of the circumstances, employers owe a duty of care to employees’ safety, health and welfare.
Below is a checklist of 10 practical steps employers can follow to ensure duty of care for a remote workforce in 2021.

How can you ensure duty of care for remote employees in 2021?

Step 1: Know your legal obligations 

Legal obligations vary by location and employers should ensure they are familiar with their specific duty of care obligations. Some examples of safety measures employers may be required to provide in certain contexts include:
  1. Fire protection such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and fire exits
  2. Emergency procedures such as evacuation plans, first aid supplies and records of emergency contacts
  3. Ensuring adequate electrical safety

Step 2: Make sure you have employer’s liability insurance

Some countries require employer’s liability insurance. For employers that are in a locality that does not, it is nonetheless wise to get insurance that will cover any incidents that may impact remote or travelling employees. For example, liability insurance providers will typically cover:
  1. Injury or illness as a result of the work an employee is doing
  2. Road accidents for employees that use a company car
  3. Any potential claims brought forward by employees (including future ones when the individual is no longer an employee)

Step 3: Ensure employees are not in breach of personal contracts 

Employees should be reminded to check that using their home as their main place of work is not in breach of any personal contracts. For example, employers should have employees check:
  1. Tenancy contracts with their landlords
  2. Mortgage contracts
  3. Home insurance contracts

Step 4: Conduct an at-home risk assessment for remote employees

Just as employers have a responsibility to ensure that the office is safe for employees to work in, they also have a duty of care to remote employees to take reasonable steps to ensure that employees’ homes are fit for work. This can be done in a few ways, such as: 
  1. Having employees fill out a digital questionnaire about their home working environment
  2. Assessing employees’ home office environment via telephone call or video conference call 
  3. Ensuring the employee feels that the work expected of them can be done from home to the same level of quality and can be done safely

Step 5: Take steps to ensure good mental health for employees

While working from home has many benefits, it also can make employees feel isolated and lonely. Some steps to mitigate these negative consequences of remote work include:
  1. Providing mental health resources
  2. Ensuring employees know communication lines with managers are open
  3. Ensuring employees have avenues to report mental health issues
  4. Helping employees set boundaries around their personal time
  5. Being on the lookout for signs of domestic abuse

Step 6: Review health and safety policies regularly

Times have changed and health and safety policies should reflect this. In particular, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be crucial to take additional safety measures for the days that employees are in the office including:
  1. Organising the office space in a way that allows for social distancing
  2. Ensuring employees are washing their hands frequently
  3. Ensuring hand sanitation stations are readily available
  4. Ensuring the office space has good ventilation 
  5. Ensuring the office is cleaned frequently 

Step 7: Communicate company equipment policies

Staff working from home will need standard office equipment to do their jobs. Employers should check their legal obligations and have a transparent policy in place for either providing or reimbursing this equipment. Some methods include:
  1. Lending employees computers and other equipment directly
  2. Giving each employee a set budget to buy equipment they need to work from home
  3. Setting terms for reimbursement of reasonable expenses

Step 8: Ensure transparency in employee online activity monitoring

Many managers feel uneasy assessing employee productivity without being able to see their staff at work. This has led to increased virtual monitoring of what employees are doing on work computers. It is important to ensure transparency with employees in regards to what is being monitored and why, and to ensure that it is being done legally. Some steps to follow include: 
  1. Conducting a privacy impact assessment to discern what level of monitoring is needed and why
  2. Setting up a digital monitoring policy that legally qualifies as reasonable and proportionate
  3. Ensuring that employees are aware of the level of monitoring and feel trusted
  4. Limiting the number of employees who have access to employee data
  5. Ensuring that employees’ sensitive data is being handled appropriately
  6. Ensuring employees are clear on what they can and cannot do on company equipment or during working hours

Step 9: Put measures in place to protect data and confidentiality

Working from home inevitably means that employees are hosting meetings that others may overhear and are using their own personal internet connections. Some steps that employers can take to ensure proprietary data protection include:
  1. Supplying employees with devices and software that is secure
  2. Ensuring that employees can store their work on corporate cloud storage rather than their personal devices
  3. Ensuring employees are using corporate emails, not personal ones
  4. Creating rules to ensure strong password protection for anything work-related

Step 10: Ensure duty of care for travelling employees

Business travel is a common feature of most modern businesses. Employers should be aware that they have a continued responsibility to their travelling employees, and, depending on where employees are travelling, this can be a particularly dangerous time. There are several practical and proactive steps employers can take to keep travelling employees safe such as:  
  1. Creating an appropriate travel policy that incorporates country risk ratings into the approval process
  2. Planning safe travel routes, especially for those travelling at night and in areas without decent mobile phone coverage
  3. Monitoring the weather and other physical security threats. This can be done with software solutions like WatchKeeper
With WatchKeeper, employers ensure duty of care and minimise travel risks for their employees by:
  1. Visualising employee locations alongside real-time risk data on a single mapping display
  2. Anonymising exactly where employees live by mapping them down to the city or zip code 
  3. Being notified to security threats in specific locations in real-time for quick reactions
  4. Setting workflows in advance which will specify exactly who does what when for any variety of risk scenarios
  5. Using the Views & Briefings tool after an incident to learn and improve in the future
Duty of care towards employees, especially those that are travelling to high-risk environments is complex. However, there are several very practical ways employers can ensure that they are taking all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff.
To learn more about WatchKeeper or to request a demo, please visit watchkeeper.com or email info@watchkeeper.com.
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