Tue 06 / 04 / 21
En Route to the Office
How will flexible working look moving forwards? And how can employers respond to flexible working requests from their employees? Harry Sherrard of Sherrards Employment Law Solicitors, and sponsor of this year's Brighton Base Camp: En Route, examines the route back to the office and what it means for employment law.
By Harry Sherrard of Sherrards Employment Law Solicitors
Much has been written and discussed over the last year about the demise of the office. Having been abruptly forced to abandon the office in March 2020 and to work remotely using Zoom and similar resources, employees, we are told, will want to continue working from home indefinitely.
But by no means does this apply to all employees, and many are in fact keen to return to the workplace. The interaction with colleagues is appreciated and many are of the view that, whilst there are some advantages to working from home, working together as a cohesive team in the office is, overall, more effective. This is particularly so from the point of view of creative work and learning from colleagues. Extensive homeworking has been particularly detrimental for the most junior employees, including apprentices.
So where does the employer stand if, despite extensive vaccination programmes and the end of the pandemic in sight, employees wish to continue working a substantial proportion of their hours, or even exclusively, at home?
Contracts of employment specify that the office is the place of work, and employees wanting to continue to work from home are in effect making informal flexible working requests. Some employees, for example those with health problems and lingering concerns, are more likely to have these requests granted. For healthy vaccinated employees, who wish to continue to work from home for convenience reasons, employers may need to move the conversation to an instruction to return to the workplace. Employees could respond to this instruction by submitting a formal flexible working request, asking to work from home. How would this play out?
Employees’ perceptions and the feasibility of working from home have substantially changed over the last year, but the law hasn’t. As before, employers can refuse to agree to flexible working on one of a number of business grounds.
One of the potential grounds for refusing a flexible working request is the burden of additional costs. Another is detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand. But the bar is set low for employers. It is not necessary to demonstrate extremely high and onerous costs; it is not necessary to demonstrate that the ability to meet customer demand would be detrimentally affected in a major way. Any quantifiable additional cost or detrimental impact gets the employer home.
So, contrary to the impression that has been given in the media, employers are in fact well-placed to turn down requests for flexible working and to secure a return to the workplace of the majority of their employees.
Harry Sherrard, Principal of Sherrards Employment Law Solicitors
Harry Sherrard has been a specialist employment lawyer for over 20 years. Described in Chambers as “well known and respected” in the market and appreciated for his “common-sense approach and manner.” In The Legal 500 he is recommended for his “practical, immediate advice.”
Sherrards Employment Law Solicitors are sponsoring this year's Brighton Base Camp: En Route. Base Camp brings together 200+ businesses and entrepreneurs from across the city's diverse business community for a morning of inspiring speakers, expert-led workshops and structured networking sessions - leaving you feeling motivated and energised for the year ahead.
Find out more and grab your ticket to Base Camp: En Route here.
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