The concept of working from home has gained significant traction in recent years, especially with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. New legislation - the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill - has now gone through Parliament and simply awaits royal assent before becoming law. This legislation recognises the changing nature of work and the benefits that remote working can bring to both employees and employers. By strengthening the rules around flexible working, the government hopes to promote a healthy work-life balance and empower individuals to choose a working arrangement that suits their needs.
Key changes which will, or are likely to, be made by the legislation (either directly, or under secondary legislation) will be:
- Making the right to flexible working a "day one" right, so that no minimum length of service is required before an employee can make a flexible working request (currently 26 weeks’ continuous service is required)
- Requiring an employer to consult with the employee if it is considering rejecting a flexible working request
- Permitting employees to make two flexible working requests in a 12-month period (instead of one)
- Reducing the period in which an employer must respond to a request from three months to two months
- Removing the requirement for employees to specify in a flexible working request how the employer might deal with the effects of that request
We don’t yet know when these changes will become law but, ultimately, the aim is to create a more inclusive and flexible working environment for all.
Whilst current legislation stops short of giving employees an absolute legal right to work from home, Labour apparently has more radical plans. According to a leaked document, they are considering making working from home a legal right as one of a number of manifesto commitments for the next general election. Quite how this would work in practice remains to be seen as of course not every job is capable of being done remotely.
This proposal has sparked both strong support and strong opposition. Proponents argue that such a move would provide employees with greater autonomy and flexibility, ultimately leading to higher job satisfaction and overall well-being. They believe that individuals should have the right to choose where they work, as long as they can fulfil their job responsibilities effectively. On the other hand, critics express concerns about the potential negative consequences of making working from home a legal right. They argue that certain roles require in-person collaboration and supervision, and remote work may hinder the development of junior staff. Additionally, they highlight the importance of face-to-face interactions in fostering creativity and innovation within teams. Moreover, there are concerns about the impact on businesses, particularly smaller ones, who may struggle to adapt to the additional costs and logistical challenges associated with remote work.
Flexible working can be hugely beneficial for employees and can help avoid long commutes, encourage a better work-life balance, and even lead to increased productivity in some cases. A number of applicants have come to expect some level of hybrid working and a blanket refusal to consider this may limit an employer’s access to the best job applicants. However there has also been a reaction against hybrid working by some employers and, whilst not many employers may agree with Elon Musk that home working is “morally wrong”, there can be real disadvantages to businesses which need to be thought through and addressed before employers commit to permanent changes.
So, whilst there is no current absolute legal right to work from home, we are seeing a move in that direction and it is in practice becoming increasingly difficult for employers to say no. There are practical and legal issues that can cause real headaches in the absence of proper planning and all employers should be reflecting on what their strategy is and how this accords with the law around flexible working.
If you or your business are currently navigating the working from home model and you require advice, please contact our Employment Law team on 01392 207020.