Back to the office – have you considered the justification?

A recent tribunal ruling is costing a well-known building society £350k in damages for unfair dismissal and discrimination and has highlighted the risks employers face when managing a return to the workplace from homeworking and changes to work patterns.

The employee was a senior lending manager who attended the office a couple of times a week and had caring responsibilities for her elderly mother. This was the primary reason for her working from home for the remainder of her contracted hours.

The employee was made redundant when the employer decided that all senior lending managers should be office based and not home based because she refused to accept this change to her contractual terms.  She subsequently lodged a claim for indirect disability discrimination by association and unfair dismissal.  The employment tribunal upheld the unfair dismissal claim and concluded that the employee was subjected to indirect disability discrimination – by association because her mother was disabled.

The tribunal found that employees caring for disabled people are less likely to be able to satisfy a requirement to be office based than non-carers. The employer had failed to discuss alternatives to being office based and could not show that their decision was based on legitimate evidence or rational grounds but was based on ‘subjective impression’.

This case highlights that employers need to consider factors when consulting with employees regarding contractual terms, including any reasonable adjustments or alternatives such as part-time office working, flexible hours or remote working.

Should you wish to discuss how to approach a return to office working, contact 121 HR Solutions for advice and support via enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk

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