Should "work from anywhere" mean anywhere in the world?
It’s understandable that workers stuck at home during COVID are choosing to break the monotony by heading for some winter sun. But whether they’re furloughed or working from home, when people relocate to another country during lockdown, it can make life difficult both for them and for their employers.
As an employer, your ability to recall people to the workplace is severely limited if they’re in another country and possibly facing travel restrictions. There’s also the headache of trying to manage workers in different time zones. And reportedly, several City banks have warned top execs weathering the pandemic at their second homes abroad that they could be hit with large tax bills unless they come back and do their remote work in the UK.
With England in lockdown for the month, is it time for employees like this to come home? What do you need to be aware of as an employer? Read on to find out...
Think before you act
Don’t be too quick to demand your workers return. A remote job doesn’t have to be based in the UK. Consider what type of work they’re doing and whether they actually need to come back immediately, especially if their workplace isn’t even open. How important is their location, really? Remember that they should be keeping you up to date on what they’re doing – failing to could be a breach of contract.
If you don’t even have any work to offer them in the UK, you should definitely tread carefully. Of course, consider any rules you made on travelling during lockdown, but if they’re not actually needed in the UK, that casts doubt on whether it’s a reasonable request. They may have gone overseas to take care of family, for example, so make sure you consider the facts of their individual case to avoid inadvertent discrimination.
In the opposite case, where you do have work to offer in the UK, and the employee can’t do their job from abroad but refuses to return, you also shouldn’t rush to fire them. Again, the question of whether it’s a reasonable and proportional response will come up if your employee has been with you for over two years and therefore has employment rights protection.
Know the consequences for your employee
This part is especially important if the employee hasn’t gone abroad yet. For example, depending on the local tax rules, your worker might find themselves having to pay tax on their whole income in both countries. They might also run into visa trouble if they’re still in Europe after Brexit.
Do your research, and if possible, discuss the downsides with them before they go – it might just put them off leaving.
Take responsibility for health and safety
No matter where your employees are in the world, you’re still responsible for their health and safety, and you still need to make sure their internet connection and workspace meet British health and safety standards. You also need to check your insurance policies to see if they’re covered for illness or injury abroad.
The upside of this is that if the employee travelled without your explicit approval, you have the right to ask them to come back to the UK even if the workplace is closed, because of your responsibility for your workers’ wellbeing.
Make decisions case by case
This is not a situation where one size fits all. Consider each case individually. If the employee can do their job from abroad, it’s generally best to allow it, but to make sure you and they are aware of the tax implications. If they can’t, you can consider a leave period and/or ask them to come back to the UK and follow whatever quarantine rules are in place.