Returning to the office and home working still causing headaches for employers!

Since the pandemic, many employers have changed their view completely regarding home working or hybrid working.  Some have even gone to the lengths of reducing the size of their office space to save costs, amending terms and conditions and employing people remotely.

But in the face of a cost-of-living crisis, and rising fuel costs some employees who were previously happy to work from home may be considering a return to office working.  If contractual terms have been amended to confirm that the “place of work” is the employee’s home address, there may be contractual implications of those same employees now working from the office.

Remote working has been hugely beneficial for many people but if the employment contract was changed, or indeed the employee was engaged on a home working contract, that employee has no right to work from the employer’s premises.

Similarly, those employers who previously were content to have their staff work remotely may now be considering a move back into the office, citing collaborative working, reduced productivity as the reasons for doing so.

In both of these scenarios, it is much better to try to be sympathetic to any personal needs and struggles that an employee may be facing. Seeking to accommodate individual needs is always the preferred approach. Acting unreasonably, even where there might be a contractual basis to do so, may harm employee relations and in the most extreme circumstances, could lead to grievances, resignations, and potentially Employment Tribunal claims for unfair constructive dismissal.

Employers must ensure that they follow the statutory procedure when dealing with any change to working practice if it concerns a contractual choice and this involves consulting for a minimum of a month (with employee representatives if more than 20 people are affected) and providing contractual notice of the change. This means that any change cannot be implemented immediately – and may take four months or more.

Along with this statutory process employers may want to look at alternative working environments, such as a hot desking arrangement, flexing core hours or possibly implementing a rota for staff to attend work.  What is important is that employers take time to consult and listen to staff concerns and try to reach agreement based on individual needs. Wining hearts and minds is always preferable to contention and litigation!

If you need to consider consulting with employees, contact us for advice, at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

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