As more and more companies switch to permanent remote or hybrid working, it’s no surprise that many jurisdictions have amended or enacted new employment laws relating to remote work. In particular, many have increased workers’ rights concerning home working equipment and how employers should provision and manage this equipment.
When it comes to compliantly equipping remote workers, there are two main areas to consider:
- Health and safety (H&S) compliance
- Tax compliance
Below, we run through all the factors you should consider when equipping your teams for safe, healthy and compliant remote work.
Broadly speaking, employers have a duty of care to their workers to provide a safe working environment - wherever they are based.
For this reason, employment law relating to remote work requires a remote worker to have a fixed place of work (i.e. their home address) - so that companies do not use the remote worker status to wriggle out of their health and safety obligations concerning workstations.
The extent of an employer’s responsibility ranges from subsidising costs for home working equipment, to providing and maintaining the entire working from home office set-up, depending on local laws. It’s therefore extremely important that you brush up on local requirements to ensure you are on the right side of the law.
Here is an overview of all the H&S considerations that may affect you.
Providing or funding equipment for remote workers
Many jurisdictions legally require an employer to actually provide equipment and/or technology to remote workers (Mexico, El Salvador, Chile, Russia… to name a few).
Others specify that employers must cover the costs for this equipment. Under recent amendments to Italy’s Support Decree, remote workers are entitled to €516.46 for home working equipment (previously €258.23).
Even if local laws do not specify that you should actually provide or reimburse equipment, it may be strongly advisable to do so to ensure you are meeting your basic duty of care to provide a safe working environment.
When the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) surveyed UK workers two weeks into the UK’s national lockdown - which saw nearly half of the UK working population working from home in some capacity - they found a drastic increase in musculoskeletal complaints. Over 50% of respondents reported new back, neck, shoulder, wrist, and other pains.
The IES’ main action point for employers: ensure safe and ergonomic home office set-ups. For a workstation expert’s perspective on what to provide, see here.
Ensuring the equipment you provide meets H&S requirements
You need to make sure any equipment your remote workers use complies with local H&S regulations for use at home, as well as in the office.
These requirements can be extremely specific. For example, under UK H&S requirements, employers must provide monitor screens on stands that can tilt and are height adjustable. Under EU requirements, screens must be height adjustable, tilt, and also swivel independently of the base.
The UK also has particularly stringent fire safety regulations for furniture designed for home use (BS 5852 Crib 5). Many standard office chairs use fabrics and foams that do not meet these standards.
Herein lies the danger in giving your remote workers a stipend and entrusting them with equipping themselves, or letting them come in and raid the office. Unless you precisely lay out what your remote workers can, or cannot, purchase, it is highly unlikely that they’ll select equipment that meets all these requirements.
At Hofy, we check all equipment against local H&S requirements before adding to our webstore, so you are never in danger of providing non-compliant equipment.
Assessing or inspecting employees’ home working spaces
You may be required to assess or personally inspect (e.g. in Ukraine) your remote workers’ homes.
In the UK and EU, that means issuing Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments, which are workstation risk assessments, for any worker that uses a screen for more than an hour at a time.
It’s worth remembering that many assessments out there were designed for regulated office environments originally. These assessments will not cater for the kind of non-standard office equipment your teams could be using (e.g. dining room chairs and tables) or other environmental factors (e.g. home broadband).
You should seek out a home-specific workstation assessment to ensure your teams get relevant set up advice, and so you can accurately pinpoint any problems with their workstations.
Ensuring the installation of equipment does not pose an H&S/insurance risk
The H&S risk here is twofold: a remote worker could injure themselves during the setup process, or due to the setup process. Either way, you would likely be considered in breach of your duty of care to the remote worker, and liable for any resulting insurance claim.
Some jurisdictions actually require the employer to install equipment (e.g. Mexico) for this reason.
At Hofy, we offer a professional assembly service to mitigate this risk altogether.
Maintaining the equipment your remote workers use
Just a few weeks ago, an amendment to Poland’s Labor Code was proposed on the Government Legislation Center’s website. Among the suggested changes was requiring employers to cover the costs relating to the installation, service, operation and maintenance of home working equipment.
Many other jurisdictions place more responsibility on the employer. For example, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) requires UK employers to ensure equipment is “maintained in an efficient state, in efficient order and in good repair”.
This can be quite a costly affair. Maintenance management platform Upkeep suggests that you should expect to spend between 2-5% of an item’s cost per year maintaining it. This approximate figure is higher for shorter life, or consumable products like consumer electronics.
And it is naturally harder to identify the need for, and organise, maintenance work when your teams are spread over 10s or 100s of home offices, instead of being centralised in one or two offices.
This is one of the key advantages of renting home office equipment, rather than purchasing it and owning it as a company. As the lessor owns the equipment, the equipment upkeep responsibility lies with them. So you outsource this responsibility.
Insuring home offices
You may need to do this. E.g. if your remote worker is based in Switzerland, where an insurance law is in place. But you should seriously consider doing this, even if it is not mandated by law.
That’s because, if your remote workers are based somewhere like the UK, you may be liable for an insurance claim if they sustain an injury during, or due to, poorly setting up their equipment.
Finally, you may need to think about more than just office equipment.
In Croatia, for example, businesses are obliged to compensate employees for all costs related to homeworking, including telephone, internet, electricity and heating bills. The law does not prescribe an amount, but states that this should be agreed between the employer and employee.
Then there’s the tax side of things. If you purchase equipment for your remote workers, or choose to gift the equipment to them, you need to consider the tax implications.
Office equipment that is purchased is a capital expense. That means you are required to track it on your balance sheet, know where it is, insure it, and recover it at the termination of employment.
If you gift equipment to remote workers - either upon purchase, or when they leave your organisation - you may need to report it on the employees' payroll, and tax return that a gift of a certain value was given to the employee. Employees then may face income tax and national insurance charges on the value of the equipment.
This is why Hofy operates on a subscription model. Rental of home office equipment is treated as a business expense, so you can pay for a rental without having to report it in your financial statements, or in colleague payroll.