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Cloud computing: a licence to work from home?

Oct 24, 2012

Cloud computing has increased the ease with which employees can work remotely. But employers should first carefully consider the potential consequences to ensure they protect their business…  

his week I ordered some kitchen chairs from Tesco.   Not a particularly interesting story so far but trust me, it does have a link to cloud computing.   The chairs were to be delivered on a weekday, so someone had to stay home all day.  To my surprise every one of my three flatmates said they could work from home if they wanted – something that would not be possible without cloud computing.

Chairs Not the actual chairs that inspired this blog

In case you’re worried, the story ends well as my chairs were delivered on time.   However the relative ease with which many employees can now work from home throws up some interesting questions for employers.  

1.  Should it be allowed?   In many companies, working remotely just won’t be practical or it will be forbidden.   However, employers need to think carefully before rejecting requests for flexible working from women as this could amount to indirect sex discrimination.  Also, homeworking could be considered as a reasonable adjustment which you might be required to make for a disabled employee.   In any event, many businesses welcome it as part of modern working life.  

2.  What are the pros?   Employees are likely to be happier if they are allowed some flexibility to log in remotely around meetings, doctors appointments, childcare commitments and the like.  You are also trusting them to work out of sight and hopefully they will appreciate the responsibility without abusing your trust.   You could also reduce your overheads by freeing up office space.  

3.  What are the cons?   They might abuse your trust!  Of course there is a risk that an employee will not work as hard when their line manager isn't looking over their shoulder.  You might also find yourself too reliant on technology, meaning that a faulty internet connection will leave the employee stranded.   Confidential information might be leaked outside the business.  Unless you provide equipment, the cloud will be accessed via personal computers over which you have no control.  How secure are these computers?  Do they have virus protection?  Who else uses them?

  4.  What can you do to protect your business?   The starting point is to put protective measures in your contracts of employment and any associated staff policies.  If you are allowing employees to work from home then you need to make it clear how the arrangements will work.   Consider implementing homeworking arrangements on a trial basis.  This will allow the parties to go back to office working if things don’t work out.   How often will you expect them to visit the office?  It is important that the worker does not feel isolated from the rest of the business.   Who will be responsible for their health and safety? 

The answer is that the employer is responsible “so far as is reasonably practicable”.  Therefore you should conduct a risk assessment of their home to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk to them.  There are additional obligations if you also provide them with equipment.  Who insures that equipment?   It also makes sense to reserve the right to enter the employee’s home (with notice) to inspect for the purposes of health and safety and repairing equipment.  

Secure Your employee's IT network is unlikely to be a secure as your own

Crucially, you should require the employee to secure his workstation as well as any wireless networks.  The employee will also need reminding of Data Protection legislation.  Employers themselves also have to be aware of Data Protection rules protecting the transfer of personal data where, for example, employees (whether alone or as part of an international office) are based outside of the EEA and have the ability to access and view personal data through the cloud. If you find that homeworking is causing performance issues then it might be time to commence disciplinary or capability procedures.  

 

Whether you already allow your employee to work remotely or you're just thinking about it, we would like to hear from you.  Our employment law specialists can help you to protect your business whilst getting the most out of your workforce.  Contact us on 020 7234 0200 or info@waterfront.law.  

If you'd like to read more about the cloud, you might be interested in Chloe Taylor's blog highlighting the problems the cloud poses for litigation and what you should be out looking for or perhaps Carole Hailey's piece on how technology companies and cloud providers don’t always see eye to eye.