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How can I monitor an underperforming employee who is working from home?

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With much of the workforce now working from home as a result of coronavirus, you may be finding it difficult to spot when an employee is underperforming.  Even in light of the current situation, as an employer, it is important that you identify any employees who may not be performing, not only to ensure continuity for your business but to discuss with them why they may be struggling and to identify any potential mental health issues that have arisen.  Our Employment Law team here discuss the various ways in which employers can monitor an underperforming employee.

Sensible employee monitoring

Depending on the concern, you could monitor several factors:

  • the volume or content of emails being sent from your employees or phone calls they make
  • your employee’s performance in meeting targets
  • whether your employee is posting on their personal social media during working hours or misses work phone calls.

Should you wish to monitor your employee’s calls or emails, it is vital that they are aware of this to avoid any potential claims against you in the future and that this is explained in any relevant policies.  This was the basis for a recent high profile Employment Tribunal case, Barbulescu v Romania, which ruled that while monitoring can be lawful, it must be done with caution. 

Communication between managers and teams

Communication has always been an important factor in monitoring poor performance even before the pandemic.  Managers should be checking in with their teams with regular phone and video calls to allow for both managers and individuals in the team to know who is doing what and to keep up to date with progress.  While there is a fine line between keeping in touch with your teams and micro management, staying in regular contact may make it harder for individuals to avoid completing their tasks.

It is also important to recognise that work plays a significant role in our social lives and those working from home may be struggling with the lack of face to face communication.  Receiving the occasional call from their manager, with whom a good relationship should have been formed from the beginning, helps them to feel a valued member of the team. This also means when the team return to the workplace once restrictions are lifted they will be able to continue to work together effectively.

Focus on the output from your employees

Setting realistic targets and timescales is part of any employee’s performance management, and should be discussed in regular 1-2-1’s and appraisals.  Now more than ever, you should be setting your employees realistic timescales and targets to meet and discussing with the employee why they may be missing those deadlines if they are.  It might be that they are having technical issues or problems with their internet, they may be finding things difficult or are distracted at home with childcare commitments.  Instead of adhering to your regular working hours, it may be prudent to discuss flexible working hours with an employee to fit around their childcare arrangements or other distractions that may be arising from working from home.  Any agreements which you put in place in this regard should be documented in writing in some form so both parties understand what has been agreed and the limits of such agreement.

Avoid heavy handedness with your employees

A distrustful approach could lead to a negative impact on staff morale and engagement.  You could consider self-reporting, for example each employee could send a brief report to a manager or supervisor at the end of the day, explaining which projects they’re working on, how busy they are, and whether they feel capable of taking on more. However, this could allow an opportunity to misrepresent workloads so it is advisable to still have an objective form of measurement, independent of self reporting.

Home working policy

You should implement a homeworking policy if you do not have one already and ensure that your employees are familiar with this so they know what is expected of them when they work from home. It should cover topics including, but not limited to:

  • conduct whilst working from home
  • confidentiality
  • how the employer will keep in touch with the employee
  • health and safety.

IT Policy and Social Media Policy

You should also have an IT Policy and Social Media Policy which sets out how employees can use your IT, social media and phone systems remotely.  It should also cover topics including, but not limited to:

  • whether personal use can take place and if so when (i.e. in break times only)
  • when and how you could monitor use of your systems
  • the consequences that breaching the policies could be dealt with under your disciplinary policy.

Managing poor performance has historically been a tricky area for employers as it can be a difficult conversation to have with an employee.  While there should be some flexibility during our current situation of adapting and living through the coronavirus pandemic, it is important that you are still firm but fair with your employees when it comes to their performance and what is expected of them.  Every employee will be handling their working day differently so you will need to accept that certain employees may need different approaches; however you must also ensure you are being consistent with all of your workforce.  If you are looking for advice or suggestions on how to manage an underperforming employee during the coming weeks and months, you can contact the Employment team on 023 8071 7717 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.