Is there a right to work from home?
Since the pandemic, working from home either full-time or as a hybrid working arrangement remains widespread across the UK. However, the shift towards a more flexible way of working brings both risks and opportunities for employers, who must ensure they meet their duties towards remote workers.
In addition to the legal compliance considerations of remote working, employers should also be aware of the expectation among many workers to offer working from home. Benefits of homeworking for the business include lowering overhead costs, freeing up office space, as well as potentially improving employee engagement and even increasing productivity.
Under current laws, there is no statutory or automatic legal entitlement for an employee to work from home, unless the worker’s contract of employment specifically states they are entitled to work from home.
Employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with the same employer do, however, have the right to make a statutory flexible working request within a 12-month period. A flexible working request is a request to change an employee’s working arrangements to better suit their needs, such as working reduced hours, different start and finish times, job sharing or working from home.
Homeworking is where an employee is allowed to undertake their daily contractual duties from home on either a temporary or permanent basis. They will typically still work the same hours for the same pay but will not be required to come into work during those times where remote working has been agreed.
By law, all employers are under a duty of care to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of their employees, including when an employee works from home. This means that having approved a remote working request or having agreed with various members of staff that they will work from home for the time being, you will need to carry out some form of questionnaire-based risk assessment of the workspace available within the employee’s home environment.
You will be responsible for ensuring that employees have access to the right equipment and technology needed to conduct their role from home, together with any necessary training and support to work remotely.
You must also maintain regular contact with employees and take any necessary steps to safeguard their health and wellbeing, including any mental health issues that may arise because of stress, anxiety or feelings of isolation.
It is advisable to devise a policy that suits the specific needs of your business to optimise its effectiveness and impact. As a minimum, it should cover key aspects including eligibility criteria and how to apply. Even though any decision to allow remote working does not need to be implemented across your entire workforce, you should be clear about the basis upon which employees are eligible to work from home, ensuring that this does not discriminate against certain individuals or groups of individuals.
You should also establish a clear remote working agreement, setting out how you expect employees to perform while working remotely and exactly what they are required to do on a daily basis. This should include hours of work and working time rest breaks, data security and data protection issues, ways of keeping in touch, points of contact for any problems, and how an employee’s performance will be managed and measured during this period.
It remains to be seen whether there will be any amendments to the existing flexible working legislation to tip the balance more in favour of workers, for example, by removing the qualifying service requirement, limiting an employers’ grounds of refusal, or increasing the level of any compensation award.
Regardless of any potential change in legislation, we have seen a shift towards flexible working as employers look to meet the expectations of workers for greater flexibility, including home working.
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