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In the last few months, many legal teams and law firms have adopted agile working policies, which has led to fee earners and other employees increasingly working from home or at least on a more flexible schedule.
Most lawyers are, by and large, able to carry on with their work remotely, as long as they have the right tools (such as, a laptop, smartphone, access to a secure online practice management or case management system and so on).
However, working away from the office comes with various risk and compliance issues which must be addressed, not least health and safety implications. This article will provides useful and practical tips on how to reduce risk and ensure compliance while your team work from home.
One of the often-overlooked risk and compliance issues related to flexible working is cybersecurity. Whilst some firms have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, which allows fee earners to use their personal laptops and smartphones for business, it is often difficult to maintain a uniform level of data protection - e.g. home WiFi networks can be easier for hackers to break into. So it’s vital that the IT department ensures that sufficient security measures are in place.
LexisNexis’ practice note Pandemic management information and cybersecurity - challenges and practical responses, under our TMT and Covid-19 content, addresses key information and cybersecurity risks to consider during a pandemic, with an unprecedented number of staff who are working from home. It covers: continued compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, as well as how to keep systems and devices secure and staff awareness.
As well as physical health, employers also have a legal duty to ensure their employees do not suffer negative mental health impacts in the course of their work. Although a certain level of stress is generally unavoidable in most jobs, excessive stress can lead to mental health conditions recognised as a disability (e.g. clinical depression) for which employers need to adjust under the Equality Act 2010.
Flexible working is often seen as a potential tool for avoiding excessive stress in the workplace. But there are sometimes new factors of stress introduced in a home environment, such as in the case of parents who are trying to juggle childcare responsibilities with their work duties. Flexible working schedules can also result in excessive work in the absence of more defined office hours, so employers should make sure that their staff are not working beyond the limits set out by the Working Time Regulations.
LexisNexis has developed a practice note on Dealing with stress and mental ill health in the workplace to tackle work related stress, which covers relevant guidance from Acas and HSE on the impact of work-related stress and mental health issues in the workplace and employees. It offers advice on how a business and line manager can fully support employees, outlining minimum legal obligations and showcasing best practice
Legal teams and firms, just as any other employer, have a duty of care to their staff which includes responsibility for maintaining an adequate standard of working conditions. If a fee earner is working from home, the firm should carry out a risk assessment to check that conditions are not detrimental to health and safety, which may include:
The duty to ensure working conditions are safe is enshrined in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Employers should carry out some form of regular inspections to check that health and safety in the home working environment is up to scratch. But home visits are not always necessary - employees can instead provide photographs of their workstation and answer questions relating to other aspects of health and safety, which are then assessed by the employer.
In managing the many facets and potential pitfalls that can occur in managing legal compliance and risk remotely, Lexis®PSL can offer you accessible legal guidance, practice notes, precedents, forms and timelines—helping you to win cases, close deals and save time in your day-to-day role.
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Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved leading content and thought leadership, as well as writing research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"
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