Working from home

Working from home as an option: Employers have been navigating uncharted waters since the national lockdown was implemented end of March 2020. The lockdown was implemented to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus in order to allow time to prepare South Africa’s health system’s capacity so as to be able to accommodate COVID-19 cases.

The pandemic has already had serious implications for many South Africans, as well as a negative economic impact on the country in general. Employers are concerned about staying operational during this declared disaster, especially with regards to loss of income and the employer’s responsibility towards employees.

Employers must make plans to manage businesses profitably and sustainably and many employers implemented the method (where practicable and workable) for employees to work from home. This limits the number of employees in the workplace and allows for certain business activities to continue, subject to set regulations and industry specific restrictions.

When employees are allowed to work from home, for whatever period of time, there of course advantages and disadvantages – consider the following:

Infrastructure and working from home

Determine if the employee’s private residence allows the employee to perform his duties effectively. The employer has a duty to create and maintain a safe and healthy work environment. This obligation is extended to the employee’s private residence when the employee works from home. Identify the resources the employee will need to perform his duties, e.g. technology, cell phone, computer (hardware and software), internet access and data, stationery, support, etc.

Productivity and working from home

Employee productivity can increase or decrease when working from home. This depends on several factors, including the employee’s sense of responsibility, mindset, work ethic, distractions, environment, etc. It is very important that productivity is monitored and the employer communicates regularly and clearly with the employee regarding the expected performance. It is important to emphasize the employee’s outputs: set measurable targets with deadlines that are in line with the employer’s fixed standard.

Discipline and working from home

The employer must set clear guidelines for the use of the employer’s property, referring to both physical and intellectual assets. It is vital that employees respect the employer’s property as such, as well as the responsibility to utilise it in the employer’s interest. Businesses suffer enormous financial losses due to employees that misuse or damage the employer’s property, whether as a result of negligence, or with intent.

The most common misconduct linked to employees working from home include absenteeism, misuse of the employer’s property and moonlighting – when the employee takes up a second job without the primary employer’s permission.

The seriousness of the offence is influenced by the employee’s type of work and responsibility, whether the misconduct was due to negligence or with intent, the (possible) consequences of the misconduct and the impact of the misconduct on the employer-employee relationship of trust.

Be proactive

  • Ensure that the employer’s disciplinary code is relevant and up to date with regards to offences and applicable sanctions and that all employees are aware of what the code entails.
  • Ensure that every employee has a detailed job description listing the employee’s duties, as well as the employer’s expectations.
  • Implement a policy with regards to the personal use of equipment. Employers must be reasonable and fair and apply discipline consistently.
  • Regular communication creates a platform for employees to give feedback with regards to challenges, need and suggestions.

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