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Fresh UK Clampdowns Underscore Working From Home Risks

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , London, 19 October 2020

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Working from home has become standard for tens of millions of people, including those in wealth management. New restrictions have taken effect in the UK, and are doing so in other European countries as a so-called "second wave" of COVID-19 occurs.

UK authorities imposed tougher restrictions to fight the pandemic in London from midnight on Friday last week, reports said. This underscores how working from home is the norm for millions of citizens. And it is fraught with challenges for employers and staff alike. 

Employers of all sizes must understand the challenges arising from home working, Ami Amin, regulatory lawyer, Constantine Law and Ben Payne, employment lawyers, Hine Legal, have warned. 

The lawyers say that firms must review and change employees’ working contracts to account for new work arrangements. There are potential tax and, possibly, immigration law implications if employees are abroad. Other considerations include having appropriate home office equipment, such as office furniture, seating and desks; adequate insurance cover; firms must be sure that their health and safety obligations to staff are honoured and updated; employees must follow suitable digital “hygiene” to avoid heightened cybersecurity risks when using their home internet; employers may also be required to check whether their staff are following proper IT protocol and other procedures.

Employers also need to check whether employees discuss confidential information over the phone or other channels, and respect company rules. Besides errors, there are more risks of deliberate abuse, the lawyers said. 

“As lawyers we anticipate seeing a parallel rise in regulatory enforcement cases as such cases come to light. In order to minimise and mitigate against the risk of regulatory scrutiny, it is essential that employers take steps to reduce the scope for such breaches,” they said. 

Another area that they stressed which needs scrutiny is “maintaining professionalism.” “Office working allows employers to have a level of control over the activities of employees. When working around colleagues, employees are likely to be more careful about what they say to each other internally and to others externally. In the absence of this controlled environment, there is scope for levels of professionalism to drop, potentially having a knock-on impact on the quality of the work being undertaken,” they said.

In August, to give two examples, Schroders, the wealth and investment house, and the international accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, caught headlines with their positions. Schroders, a FTSE-100 company with more than 5,000 staff, said that employees will no longer have to come to the office. PwC is letting the majority of its staff work from home.

In the wealth management sector, this news service regularly talks to C-suite executives, managers and other figures from their homes, usually via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other channels. In-person meetings are rare: this correspondent has had a total of five in-person meetings for work since the March restrictions began. Already, journalists have become used to remote working, using digital workflow tools such as Slack and Basecamp to keep abreast of tasks. 

For millions in sectors such as hospitality, construction, agriculture, heavy engineering and transport, lockdowns/social distancing have forced firms to shut operations completely, such as cinemas, or forced people to wear protective gear in the workplace, and change how they work. And a large number of people have been placed on temporary furlough.

This news service will be talking to firms and individuals about home-working challenges, and for anyone who wants to share their experiences, please email tom.burroughes@wealthbriefing.com and jackie.bennion@clearviewpublishing.com

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