Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, reports that more than 50% of UK employers anticipate increased demand for hybrid working options, following the Coronavirus pandemic.
During the phases of lockdown, many organisations instituted a work-from-home policy and many employees and employers have discovered benefits from the practice. A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report found that the increase in homeworking has either boosted or has made no difference to productivity, according to 71% of employers (33% said it had actually improved output.)
Since 2014, employers are legally obliged to consider requests for flexible working in most cases.
Putting these facts together, it would seem logical for employers to implement a hybrid working policy.
Consultation is Key
However, simple logic and common sense do not always reflect best practice in employment law matters. A policy introduced to benefit the majority of employees may not be welcomed by all and you could fall foul of the law.
It is good practice to involve staff in the design of new policy from the start. When employees are consulted, they are more likely to engage and less inclined to resist.
In many cases, staff consultation may be enshrined in company policy. It is a legal requirement to inform and consult employees when any new policy means a change to employment contracts and special rules apply to workplaces with more than 50 employees.
Step by Step
There are several aspects to take into account when considering a flexible working policy.
Hybrid working, splitting time between home and the workplace, is only one form of flexible working and may not suit every employee. A considerate and forward-looking employer will consider offering options such as flexitime, part-time working and job shares.
You will need to prescribe procedures to ensure that staff are all treated fairly and equally. While it may not be possible to accommodate every employee’s preferred working pattern, each employee has the right to request flexible working and you should be prepared to justify your decision if your response is negative.
You should make clear exactly what the support and line management systems are for staff when working out of the office and in the office. Grey areas lead to confusion and inevitably create difficulties should you ever need to implement a disciplinary hearing.
Ivona Supernat, employment law specialist at Ardens Solicitors, said:
“It is natural that employers are looking now to formalise flexible working policies, following experience during lockdown. However, it is crucial to note that there are additional responsibilities upon employers who implement a permanent policy, once lockdown is ended.
Some time spent now, taking expert advice regarding legal obligations and factoring in possible future eventualities, can avert serious and expensive problems further down the line.”
It is worth remembering that employers will still need to ensure employees have a safe place to work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises:
“As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers.”
Employers must conduct a workplace safety assessment for each person working from home long-term, or they should explain how to carry out such assessments and provide workers with appropriate equipment and advice on control measures. This includes assessments for display screen equipment, chairs and desks, etc.
Any workplace risk is magnified for lone workers. Issues that should not be overlooked include potential elevated work-related stress levels and mental health problems faced by workers without the support of co-workers or managers in the same environment.
The HSE recommends frequent communication with staff to recognise warning signs as they arise and an emergency point of contact for all staff to get help when it is needed.
Implementing flexible working procedures and developing corresponding policy is undoubtedly good practice but is certainly not a DIY project. Contact Ivona Supernat, Head of Employment Law at Ivona@ardenslaw.com or on 020 7100 7098 for advice. Our solicitors are fluent in English, Hindi, Gujarati, Polish, Punjabi and Urdu.