Working from home is now the norm for so many people, but with one in ten employees still wanting a remote lifestyle for the foreseeable future, what does that mean for employers and what exactly are the risks?
Certainly, employers and HR teams have been working hard to attract their teams back into the office again when needed.
But for those higher up the corporate ladder, with have greater amounts of responsibility on their shoulders and more confidential company knowledge than colleagues, their output levels and understanding of the business could, one day, become a cause for concern and compromise.
Dave Jones from Reveal PI comments: “The risks are very real and will often be focused around how much work is actually being done and also what trusted information is known.
“If in time, organisations are worried about certain individuals’ commitment to the job, or whether particular members of staff are taking advantage of remote working, it’s important to ensure that investigations are undertaken in the right way, are justifiable and proportionate, right from the off.
“In most cases, remote work fraud shares common grounds with other HR investigations we have conducted previously, such as employee insurance fraud regarding injuries that aren’t quite as serious as they seem – except they involve how company time is used.
When employees are given the freedom to work to their own timescales and with reduced levels of supervision, some do – and will – take advantage, and it will impact their ability to fulfil their duties.”
Dismissing an employee based on suspicion alone will leave a business susceptible to unfair dismissal claims so it is important to handle situations delicately.
The first steps should always be to evaluate the source of information (where have the suspicions come from and is it reliable information) and secondly, to check the contract of employment and company handbook to establish whether actions would actually be a breach of employment.
It is at this stage companies may seek help from a corporate private investigator if a situation has been assessed and they are unable to provide sufficient evidence of their suspicions.
Some employers may be particularly interested in investigating employees that refuse to come back to the office, citing that they are frightened of potentially catching a virus or obeying local lockdown orders against employer wishes.
There may be underlying issues with the employee that needs to be considered and every case should be handled with caution, taking the employers physical and mental health into consideration – however, it is ultimately the employer’s decision and not the employees.
Sandra Berns, director at Centric HR says: “Communication at this time is key to alleviating apprehension associated with returning to the office. Whilst it is the employer’s decision whether they require employees to return to the office, employers have a duty of care to make the workplace as safe as possible for staff. It is best practice for employers to develop return-to-work plans with staff.
“Employers should also give consideration to agile working options now the pandemic has fundamentally changed how we work. We would always recommend that you undertake a full risk assessment not only for the return but for individual employees. This allows employers to understand any risk factors and make any job adjustments to alleviate concerns and provide assurance for those returning to the office or work environments.”
Millions of people across the country have been receiving as much as 80% of their normal wage whilst being furloughed and are now being asked to return to work. When being asked to return to full-time work for an additional 20% of wages, some may feel they are better off on furlough.
In addition to the financial concerns, we have found that many employee’s (unbeknown to their employer) have sought additional employment to make the most of their newly found free time.
Some of the cases of ‘moonlighting’ we have seen range from courier drivers to cashiers, whilst furloughed employees are able to seek additional employment if they don’t inform their employer they may be in breach of their employment contract.
A major factor in these investigations is establishing whether or not they have informed their employer and whether their contract of employment permits this.