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Law guide

Working from home and piece work

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Homeworkers have their jobs (usually practical work) based in their home. Teleworkers are a subcategory of homeworkers who use both a computer and telephone to do their work and communicate with their colleagues. Both kinds of homeworking have potential drawbacks and advantages.

Homeworking

A homeworker is anyone who works for someone else and only works from home. Many homeworkers in the UK are employed in manufacturing, making a wide range of items from footwear to car components.

Employment rights

As a homeworker, your employment rights depend on whether you are a worker or an employee. You should be aware that this isn't always the same as your tax status (for instance, you can be self-employed for tax purposes, but be a worker for employment rights purposes.

For more information, see our 'Employees, workers and the self-employed' section.

The National Minimum Wage and piece work

If you are a worker or employee, you will normally be entitled to the National Minimum Wage. Your employer may pay you by the amount of work you do, rather than by the hour ('piece work'). In that case you're entitled to the minimum wage rate either for all the hours you work or, if the 'fair piece rate' system is in operation, for 120 per cent of the hours that the average worker working for your employer would take to do the work you do. The effect of the system is that all workers, except those who are much slower than average, earn at least the minimum wage rate for the hours they actually put in.

Health and safety

If you're an employee working from home, your employer must make sure you're safe. They should carry out a risk assessment at your place of work, identify any health and safety risks and take steps to reduce them.

Homeworkers must be careful when:

  • Handling loads
  • Using equipment provided by the company
  • Using electrical equipment
  • Using certain hazardous substances or materials (for example, glue or adhesives)
  • Working with computer screens or Visual Display Units (VDUs) for long periods
All homeworkers, whether self-employed or employed (especially new and expectant mothers), should take care if working on their own for long periods.

Bogus job offers

Some adverts for homeworking jobs are scams. Real jobs don't come with a fee, so never send money up front to people or companies who claim they can give you work at home.

A common scam involves adverts about addressing and stuffing envelopes, which ask for a registration fee. If you pay the fee, you get advice to place adverts like the one you saw, but no actual work. Another asks for money for home assembly kits and promises your money back and payment for completed kits. However, the advertiser will pocket any money you send, claiming the kit you assembled didn't meet the required standard.

If you feel you've been the victim of a homeworking scam, contact your local Trading Standards Department.

Teleworking

The main difference between 'homeworking' and 'teleworking' is that teleworkers, who may work full-time from home, are usually doing office work rather than practical work, and frequently make use of computers and other electronic devices to do their work and communicate directly with their office base. Some teleworkers spend part of their week working in the office and part working at home. As with homeworking, your rights will depend on your employment status; if you are an 'employee' you will have the same rights as any other 'employee'.

Pros and cons of homeworking

Benefits include:

  • More flexibility about the hours you work, allowing you to meet commitments at home, like childcare
  • Freeing up time and money that might be spent travelling
  • Helping to reduce stress
Drawbacks include:

  • The possibility of feeling isolated
  • Missing out on office-based learning opportunities
  • Your employer may insist that you're available at home during normal working hours, so you may lose some of the flexibility which working from home can give
  • You may have to sacrifice living space to set up a workstation which will satisfy health and safety standards
  • Your employer is likely to insist that they must inspect your workstation to make sure it's suitable, meaning you'll have to let them into your home
Security risks

Data security may be at risk if you use a personal computer, so your employer may provide you with one.

You will have to make sure that any visitors to your house don't see any sensitive material you're working with.

What to do next

If you want to work from home

Speak to your employer. The law says employers must seriously consider requests from parents of young or disabled children, and there's often a good case for allowing employees to vary their work patterns. However, unless it says so in your contract, your employer doesn't have to agree.

If you don't want to work from home

Unless your contract says you're required to work from home, your employer can't make you – note that your contract may be partly in writing and partly verbal. Nor can they make you take work home with you after a day in the office. Your working hours should be set out in your contract and mustn't exceed the limits set out in the Working Time Regulations (unless you have consented, in writing, to opt out of these limits).