In light of the Government’s decision to end the requirement to work from home, employers have been urged to check their contracts of employment before calling on staff to stop working remotely.
Worcestershire employment lawyer Sally Morris said firms may encounter employee issues if they do not offer some form of hybrid working – a combination of working in the office and from home for some of the week – after workers became used to it during the past 18 months.
The partner and head of employment at mfg Solicitors said while workers did not have an automatic right to work from home, turning down a request for flexible working, including hybrid or homeworking could result in a claim for indirect discrimination, with protected characteristics of sex, age and disability being common grounds for a complaint.
Ms Morris said it was vital employers check their legal position so that businesses can consider what works best for themselves and their employees.
She said: “There are going to be some real issues if employers try to apply a one size fits all approach to returning to the workplace.
“Homeworking is possible in office-based roles, less so in others, and it’s vital that employers have the right contracts in place to meet their own needs while respecting the new requirements of their staff, who have become used to a very different way of working.”
Contracts for staff working at home need to address when and how the arrangements can be brought to an end. They also need to set out hours of work and whether the worker is entitled to expenses to cover their utility bills. They must also specify the duties of the worker to protect confidentiality and personal data if working with sensitive material in their own home.
According to the Office for National Statistics, more than one in three employed people (36%) did some work from home during 2020, up from just over a quarter in 2019.
However, it varies by industry with 62% of people in information and communications having mainly worked from home compared with just 12% in accommodation and food services, such as pubs and hotels.
Ms Morris added: “Employers will always differ on what they want. We’ve seen this with big employers in the USA insisting on office attendance, while others have seen benefits and savings in having their staff work remotely.
“One big issue for employers at the moment is recruitment and retention, with many organisations struggling, and as such, they may have to also be open to hybrid and homeworking models if they want to attract and retain the best talent.”