Working from home and piece work

Homeworkers have their jobs (usually practical work) based in their home. Teleworkers also do their normal (but usually office-based) work from home. Both kinds of homeworking have potential drawbacks and advantages.

Homeworking

A homeworker is anyone who only works from home. Many homeworkers are employed in manufacturing and make a wide range of items from footwear to car components.

Employment rights

As a homeworker, your employment rights depend on your legal status. There are three main categories:

  • workers
  • employees
  • self employed

You should be aware that this isn't always the same as your tax status which means that you can be self employed for tax purposes, but be a 'worker' for employment rights purposes.

National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage

If you are a worker or employee, you will normally be entitled to the National Minimum Wage or National Living 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 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, except workers 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 of where you work, identify any health and safety risks and take steps to reduce them. Homeworkers must be careful when:

  • handling loads
  • using equipment from work
  • using electrical equipment
  • using certain hazardous substances or materials (glue or adhesives for example)
  • working with Visual Display Units 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 of time.

Bogus job offers

Some adverts for homeworking jobs are scams. Normally, 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.

If you are interested in an advertised homeworking job do some research into the company and contact them with your questions. If they are legitimate, they should have no problems with speaking to you and giving you more information.

Common scams involve adverts:

  • about addressing and stuffing envelopes which ask for a registration fee - if you pay it you get advice to place adverts like the one you saw, but no actual work
  • asking for money for home assembly kits and promising your money back and payment for completed kits - the advertiser will then pocket any money you send and claim the kit you assembled didn't meet the required standard

If you have been the victim of a homeworking scam, contact the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service.

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. As part of their day-to-day duties, they often make use of computers and other electronic devices to do their work and communicate directly with their office. 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', for example, you will have the same rights as any other 'employee'.

Pros and cons of teleworking

Benefits may 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 may 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 work station 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, which means that 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 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. Please note that your contract may be partly in writing and partly verbal.

Neither can they make you take work home 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.

Where you can get help

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland. You can contact the LRA on 028 9032 1442 from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday.

Citizens Advice Northern Ireland can provide free and impartial advice.

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

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