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Thursday 04 February 2021

Homeworking – how to protect yourself and your career

By Claire Pullar

With many NHS managers working at home or moving to different roles, Claire Pullar offers her tips on how to protect your health and career during the pandemic and beyond.

Heart at home graphic

1. Check your contract 

If your employer asks you to work from home for your own safety, it’s usually best to follow their advice – it’s not given lightly. Most NHS contracts allow employers to make reasonable changes to your place of work, usually in consultation with trade unions. See if your local Partnership Forum has published an agreement on homeworking, which should cover such things as which staff must or can work from home, provision of equipment, changes in responsibilities and so on. 

2. Get a risk assessment

If you have any doubts about being able to work safely from home, ask for a risk assessment, which your employer is duty bound to provide. You can also ask for a risk assessment if your employer requires you keep attending your workplace, which should include any risks associated with travelling to work or attending other sites as part of your job.

3. Protect your health and wellbeing

Your employer must consider any medical conditions or disabilities which affect your ability to work at home or attend your workplace. For example, if you have a condition that makes you particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, you may have to work from home and your employer should make reasonable adjustments to your workload, responsibilities and ways of working to reflect this.
 

4. Protect your substantive role

If you are temporarily moved to a different job it’s very important to protect your substantive role so you can return to it later. You should ask your employer for a written agreement, similar to secondment agreement, which clearly states your new responsibilities and when you will return to your old job. You can agree to extend this, but it’s imperative that you never give up your right to return to your substantive role.

5. Explore your options

Some members – especially those who have suffered workplace bullying or were under threat of redundancy – may prefer working in their new role. If this job is not COVID-specific, your MiP national officer may be able to help you negotiate a permanent move. But, again, don’t give up your right to return to your old job until everything’s been settled.

6. Get support

Your employer should provide the right equipment for you to be able to work safely and effectively from home, including a desk and chair suitable for you, and the IT equipment you need to do your job. Keep in touch with your line manager through regular online meetings and make sure you check in with any occupational or professional networks you belong to.

7. Look after yourself

Make sure you take regular screen breaks and a proper break for lunch. Social isolation can be a problem, so consider meeting with a ’breakfast buddy’ every morning or take a regular online coffee break with a colleague. If you feel unsafe working at home, due to domestic abuse or any other reason, speak to your national officer immediately. Contact the national domestic abuse helpline if you need emergency help or details of a local women’s refuge. 

8. Guard your own time

Your contracted hours (usually 37.5 a week) don’t change just because you’re working from home. Your employer should not expect you to work (and that includes answering calls and emails) at evenings or at weekends, unless you’re on call or your contract allows that (in which case your hours must be ‘reasonable’). If it suits you to work irregular hours, respect other people’s time too. Consider using an email signature message telling colleagues you don’t expect a response outside normal working hours.

9. Review your objectives

Your appraisals should continue as normal, whether you work from home or the office. If your role or responsibilities have changed, speak to your line manager about changing your objectives. You should also do this if working from home makes it impossible to meet your original objectives. Raise any problems with your manager’s manager, and seek advice from your MiP national officer if necessary. 

10. Get help & take action

If you feel anxious about how you’re being asked to work, you don’t have to accept it. Talk to your line manager and make sure he or she is fully aware of your situation. Have a chat with your MiP national officer. Remember, if there’s a risk to you, there’s a risk to your employer, so MiP will often be able to negotiate an arrangement that works for both of you.  

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