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Should I have a homeworking policy?

If organisations don’t have a formal home working policy, then they should set out, as soon as possible, in clear terms, what is expected of employees from a data protection perspective when working from home. These might include:

  • If someone is using their own device for remote working, ensuring that any devices that hold work-related information have up-to-date anti-virus software and that broadband connections have properly configured firewalls
  • Reminding staff to contact the organisation’s IT department if they encounter any issues with home working, and not to try and resolve any issues themselves
  • Reminding staff that they should notify relevant individuals within the organisation if they consider that there might have been a personal data breach. A breach will still be notifiable even if it does occur at home during the pandemic. These should be logged by the organisation in their data breach log in the normal way
  • Ensuring staff lock their devices whenever they are not using them
  • Where possible, working in a separate part of the home to family members
  • Ensuring confidentiality of information – advising staff not to have phone calls where others are likely to hear the conversation. This might mean moving to a different room, closing the door, or arranging a call for a more convenient time. If employees have smart speakers, you may want to consider advising them to either turn these off, if they are working in the same room as it, or work in a different room
  • Wherever possible, avoid taking hard copy documents home, and, if papers are taken home, never placing those papers in a bin or using a home shredder – any such papers should be shredded back at the office in the usual way
  • Locking any papers in a safe place
  • Not using social media platforms (unless already used and permitted by the organisation) to discuss work matters
  • Advising extra caution with incoming emails as at times such as this there may be an increased risk of fraud, email hacking, spear phishing etc.
  • Avoiding information being sent to personal email accounts (for example, so it can then be printed at home)
  • Reminding staff of your organisation’s Information Security policies, procedures and protocols. These could be emailed to all staff working from home or they could be directed to such documents on the organisation’s intranet, for example

Organisations should also ensure that their remote access systems can cope with increased demand.

Whilst the ICO appreciates the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, it does not mean that organisations can forget about their obligations as controllers of personal data. If a major data security breach were to happen, there is still the possibility of enforcement action where the organisation didn’t put in place good risk mitigation measures.

We have a specialist team of data protection lawyers here at Ward Hadaway, and would be happy to discuss any data protection concerns or issues that you might have.

Related FAQs

Can agency workers be furloughed?

Yes, if they are paid via PAYE. This includes agency workers engaged under umbrella companies.

The furlough should be agreed between the agency (the employer) and the worker and documented in accordance with the guidance. It is recommended that the decision to furlough is discussed with end user clients. Just like other employees, agency workers cannot perform work through or on behalf of the agency while furloughed. This includes work for the client.

For agency staff working under umbrella companies, it is for the umbrella company and the agency worker to agree on furloughing the worker.

I pay child maintenance and half of my children's private school fees to my ex-partner but I have been placed on Furlough, with no top-up from my employer, so my income has dropped significantly. Is there anything I can do?

a. You should first try and discuss this with your ex-partner, either directly or through a Solicitor, to see whether an amicable agreement can be reached.

If you contribute to private school fees voluntarily, it is a matter for you and your ex-partner to resolve the issue with the school, depending whose name is on the bills. You may need to speak to the children’s school to see whether they can offer any reductions or remedies in relation to those payments. If you contribute to the school fees as part of a Court Order, you will need to ensure you do not breach the Order and you may need to consider applying for a variation of the Order if you can no longer afford the payments or reach a compromise agreement with your ex-partner.

You can use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) calculator (https://www.gov.uk/calculate-child-maintenance) to recalculate your child maintenance obligations using your amended income. This recalculation can then be used in your discussions and you can formally instruct the CMS to verify that calculation if you and your ex-partner cannot reach an agreement about it. If you have already formally involved the CMS, they do carry out an annual review of child maintenance payments, however, they will also recalculate payments outside of the review period where there has been a change in income of 25% or more. We expect the CMS will be experiencing a high volume of enquiries at the present time so anticipate there may be delays in them assisting.

The position on child maintenance payments included in a Court Order are slightly more complicated and how you approach this will depend on how much time has passed since the date of the Order.

Unpaid leave and sabbaticals

Employees will be reluctant to take unpaid leave or a sabbatical but when faced with the alternative prospect of redundancy may give it some serious consideration. This would remove the cost of that employee from the employer’s business for an agreed period of time. This is an option which can be offered to employees but again, imposing it without agreement creates significant risk.

Should I stop paying my commercial rent?

Commercial leases generally prevent a tenant from withholding payments of rent. If a tenant stops paying rent there will be a breach of the tenant’s covenant to pay rent which, strictly speaking, will entitle the landlord to forfeit the lease and/or seek to recover the arrears in the courts. 

However, on 23 March 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that all commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland missing rent payments are to benefit from a government ban on forfeiture of their lease. This change, which will prevent landlords from terminating leases and evicting commercial tenants, is included in the Coronavirus Bill. It will come into force very shortly (once the Coronavirus Bill receives Royal Assent, which is expected to be in a matter of days) and will last until 30 June 2020, with an option for the government to extend this deadline.

It is anticipated that many commercial tenants will take advantage of the reprieve and withhold their rent. Importantly note the rules will apply not only to principal rent but to “any sum a tenant is required to pay”, leaving the burden of supplying services and insuring the premises on landlords.

It is also important to note however that the protection offered by the government is from the threat of forfeiture should tenants withhold rental payments. The liability to pay the rent however remains an interest on unpaid rents will accrue. Furthermore, remedies other than forfeiture may be pursued by the landlord e.g. service of a statutory demand before insolvency or ordinary litigation proceedings for arrears etc.. Tenants then ideally should look to reschedule or suspend rental payment through discussions with their landlord.       

The advantage of this being you might be able to negotiate a sensible and manageable repayment program in respect of the suspended rent, free of the threat of litigation.

What does the new Chief Coroner guidance cover?

This guidance from the Chief Coroner applies to reports of death and coroner investigations in England and Wales. It is to assist coroners in continuing to exercise their judicial decisions independently, in accordance with the law, and during the extraordinarily pressured events being faced at present.