This article was first published by eprivateclient, reproduced here with kind permission of the editor.
Many people who employ domestic staff will occasionally find that they are not present to manage them, whether during a period of travel or because they spend time at a number of different homes. Managing staff during a period of absence poses number of challenges, and it is certainly worth considering in advance how best to make it work, both for you and for the employees.
1. Be clear about your circumstances and expectations from the outset
If employees do not understand what is expected of them, it is much more likely that disputes will arise. If you are away a lot,explain this to candidates during the recruitment process and ensure they understand that the demands on them may vary considerably depending on whether or not you are there. Make it clear that a degree of flexibility on their part will be required.Equally, if your requirements change, ensure that you inform staff and consider whether you need to agree a change to their contracts.
2. Ensure your contracts have the flexibility you need
You may not need your employees to work their usual hours while you are away. Equally, when you are there you might well expect more from them. If your requirements vary significantly throughout the year, consider asking staff to sign a contract for annualised hours (most of which will in practice be worked when you are present) rather than a standard full or part time arrangement. This allows for quieter periods when you are away and permits you to ask staff to work longer hours when you are there without breaching their contracts.
3. Avoid breaches of the Working Time Regulations 1998.
If you do ask staff to work longer hours during certain periods,be mindful of the Working Time Regulations 1998. These contain rules limiting working hours and providing for rest breaks and holidays. While some of the provisions of the Working Time Regulations do not apply to domestic employees in private households, domestic staff are entitled to 5.6 weeks' annual leave (including bank holidays, and pro rata for part-time employees), daily rest periods of 11 hours and longer rest periods of either 24 hours each week or 48 hours each fortnight. While you can generally require annual leave to be taken at times when you are away, you should take care to ensure that employees are able to take appropriate daily and weekly/fortnightly rest periods even at busy times.
4. Who's in charge?
It may well be that when you are present, all domestic employees take their instructions from you. When you are away, it is sensible to nominate an employee (or someone outside the household, but present in the UK) to manage the household and give instructions to other employees in your absence, or if you can’t be reached. Develop a communications protocol to ensure that you are kept up to date with any significant developments and that staff can obtain instructions from you when necessary,and try to anticipate possible issues that might arise in your absence. For example, who will be responsible for dealing with minor domestic emergencies such as leaks? If it is necessary to call in a tradesman in your absence, how and by whom will they be paid?
Mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee are key in all employment relationships, and particularly important when the employer is absent. It may be helpful to make clear to staff that you do not expect anything other than the highest standards of behaviour from them even when you are away, and to lay out some ground rules (for example, in relation to guests).You may also wish to make arrangements for additional supervision during your absence. If someone is going to attend your home periodically to check that all is well, you should inform employees in advance that this will occur.You could also consider installing CCTV for security and monitoring purposes. If employees will be working in areas where CCTV is in operation they must be informed of this, and it is best to do so in writing. It will almost never be appropriate to use CCTV in areas where staff will have a strong expectation of privacy (such as bathrooms or rooms where they get changed),and the Information Commissioner's Office recommends that employers carry out an impact assessment to consider the effect that CCTV will have on employees before using it.