The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has obviously presented difficulties in how organisations continue to operate.
The trend for desk-based work to move from the office to working from home is still preferred among some employers (as well as their employees), but many employers are seeking to re-establish office-working on a part-time basis.
There are obvious advantages of ‘hybrid working’, whereby employers are able to feel some degree of control with employees being on-site (and therefore definitely ‘in attendance’) and colleagues, clients and partners can enjoy the benefit of meeting in person (and avoiding cabin fever), whilst also being able to work from home as well.
Flexible working requests
Many employees will, of course, have altered their living arrangements during the pandemic with regard to things like childcare, and so many will request flexible working (whether informally or through the statutory procedure under sections 80F to 80I of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (“Act”)). Applications under the Act usually relate to terms and conditions dealing with core hours, pattern of working hours and remuneration (for example).
Whilst the Act does not grant a right to work flexibly, employers are obliged to deal with such applications ‘in a reasonable manner’ and may only refuse an application because one or more of the grounds in the Act applies (which generally cover such matters as costs, business and staffing requirements).
The flexibility offered by a hybrid working policy can offer benefits for both parties, as ‘agile working’ can lead to increased productivity where it operates to cut cost and relieve some of the burden of outside obligations for employees. Employers may likewise find some of their obligations are lessened – for example, risk assessments where there are fewer employees in the workplace at a time may mean less onerous health and safety obligations and, in the long term, possibly lower office rent if less space is required.
But such obligations will not vanish entirely – for example, there are regulations that deal with exposure to computer and display screens for work purposes, and health and safety obligations apply to any environment in which the employee works.
Further, employers are likely to find that the burden of ensuring security, confidentiality and general requirements of data protection legislation or policy are met becomes harder (or more expensive). Likewise, employees may argue that in order to work from home, they require a contribution to meet increased expenses (such as decent internet coverage).
How to approach hybrid working?
A good approach to hybrid working, having taken into account the above considerations, is first to gather an overview of the thoughts of the workforce on the idea and (if generally positive) formulate a policy that gives employees an option to elect to work on a hybrid basis within parameters that are acceptable to the employer.
Employers can also set out general parameters, such as ratios of staff working at home to staff working in the office, and operate a rota system of home/office working.
If that sort of approach is too general, another option is to allow trial periods for those who request hybrid working (although it may be difficult to achieve consistency that way).
In all scenarios, a written policy is best because it is crucial to seek consistency in order to avoid allegations of any disparity of treatment, unlawful discrimination or other employment rights.
This article is provided by Burlingtons for general information only. It is not intended to be and cannot be relied upon as legal advice or otherwise. If you would like to discuss any of the matters covered in this article, please contact Richard Berry or write to us using the contact form below.