Davies Ndumiso Sibanda
WORKING from home is fast becoming a new normal and with it we are beginning to see disciplinary cases related to employees working from home. For people working from home, the starting point is to distinguish the type of contract they are in because some people are on an employee contract where they are paid a salary at the end of the month, others are providing services and they are paid for the actual work or task they have done.
Employers must be very clear when they get employees to work from home on which of the two types of contracts work is being done under. Where somebody is on an employment contract, he is subject to the employer’s discipline and is expected to give a full day’s work because the employer is paying for eight hours while the employee is working from home.
Employees working from home are subject to discipline by the employer for any misconduct ranging from abuse of Wi-Fi, switching off the phone during working hours so that one is not reachable, leaving your home during working hours for whatever reason.
Arguments such as, I had gone to pick children from school, I had gone to the shops, I had gone to visit a sick relative in hospital and many others are all acts of misconduct unless such activities are part of the agreement to work from.
I have had cases of employees connecting other family members to employer provided Wi-Fi without authority. Giving somebody else employer’s Wi-Fi password is an act of misconduct and the employer is within his rights to discipline such an employee.
I have dealt with numerous cases of such kind and from them it has come clear that organisations that have employees working from home should develop comprehensive working from home policies so as to avoid conflict with workers and costly disciplinary action. Having working from home policy enhances productivity as employees are clear on what can and what cannot be done.
Where employees are working from home, the working from home policy should be clear on how the employee will be compensated for the space occupied by the desk the employee works from at home and who provides the desk. While the issue of the desk and chair might look very trivial, those do occupy space, which the employee would have used for other things and as such it makes sense to agree on whether he’s going to be compensated or not.
In a number of cases, workers have rejected chairs and desks and opted for laptops and tablets thus eliminating the issue of the desk and chair.
There has also been conflict over the fact that while doing the employer’s work, electricity is consumed by the laptop, telephone, cellphone, Wi-Fi and other electronic gadgets the employee may be using, which employees expect compensation for.
Some employers have paid for those and others have loosened the working from home in lieu of the employee handling those. It is still new area where there is no settled practice.
We also have a case of employers terminating employees when Covid-19 set in but with the loosening of the lockdown, employers have gone to former employees and asked them to perform certain tasks so as to be paid on a task completion basis, which means at the end of the month or on submission of the product or completion of a service, the individual raises an invoice to be paid as a service provider.
This category of people cannot be disciplined using the code of conduct but their contract can only be terminated in cases of breach and the former employees are free to take up jobs from anybody while doing your work.
In conclusion, working from home has so many dynamics that can only be addressed through crafting an effective working from home policy that ensures that people work and are disciplined.
There is also a need to do a cost-based analysis and decide whether work from home will be done by employees or service providers.
Davies Ndumiso Sibanda can be contacted on: email: [email protected]