The Department of Trade and Industry has unveiled new guidelines that UK firms must follow if they employ staff who regularly telework from home.
The UK is one of the first European Union countries to implement the joint teleworking agreement negotiated in July 2002. The new guidance has been agreed between the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress (TUC) and CEEP UK (which represents public sector employers).
According to the DTi, some 2.2 million employees currently work remotely, a rise of two thirds since 1999 and a figure that is attributed to improved IT and telecoms technology. And the figure is increasing at a rate of 400,0000 a year.
The guidance, setting out legal requirements and examples of best practice, recognises teleworking as a progressive method of organising work that can benefit both employers and their staff.
The DTi added that such voluntary guidelines represent the way forward in employee relations, enabling business and employees to find the right solutions without unnecessary prescription.
The DTi said that increasing flexible working across UK firms will help boost business opportunities and improve productivity and competitiveness. Gerry Sutcliffe, the employment relations minister, said that modern information and communication technologies are changing the way UK business works.
"Telework, using technology to work away from the traditional office environment, has the potential to bring a wide range of benefits to both employers and employees and itís important that these benefits are realised and exploited fully," he said.
Under the terms of the revised guidelines firms must address health and safety issues, including ensuring all electrical equipment complies with safety regulations and a risk assessment of work is carried out, and take responsibility for the information security of remote workers.
Employers must also provide the same training and development opportunities as for office-based employees, and offer support to ensure that teleworkers do not become too isolated.
The CBI welcomed the non-regulatory nature of the telework agreement and said that telework can benefit both employers and employees.
CBI Director General, Digby Jones, said: "teleworking is already an established working practice, and likely to grow in importance over the next few years. Having policies which meet both employer and employee need is key to implementing teleworking successfully."
A copy of the guidelines is available from: www.dti.gov.uk/er/individual/telework.pdf