Workplace: Remote working and the new normal

Workplace:  Remote working and the new normal

The past few years we have seen schools, colleges and universities embrace online learning. In the legal industry, we have seen a plethora of online hearings taking place, which is proving to be very time effective for all parties involved. Workplaces are also much more flexible allowing employees to work from home much easier than in the past. The past year has been a significant change for all types of workplaces nationwide where the encouragement of having a work/life balance is becoming part of policies and incentives.

As the government begins to draw things to a close in terms of Covid-19 restrictions, with ending the compulsory need for masks, reducing the isolation period from 10 days to 5 (providing that on the 5th and 6th day you are negative) and ending the need to work from home if you can, uncertainties are beginning to arise as to what this means for the future in terms of flexible working and whether we would return back to life before the pandemic.

Can my employer make me come into the office?

Unfortunately, the short answer is yes. Employers can reasonably request for employees to return to the office. There are, however, several things that can be considered:

  • Check if your employment contract allows for flexible working, whether that is in relation to hours worked or location of your job. If it does, then this may mean you would be able to continue your flexible working.

  • If your employment contract does not have flexible working and you wish to remain working from home, or to remain flexible in your hours of work, consider making a flexible working request. All employees have a legal right to do so, and in the request you can detail reasons why you wish to continue working from home and how, if at all, it will benefit the business.

  • Are you the only one not being allowed to work from home? If it appears that other staff members can work from home, find out why. If your situation is similar theirs you may have an argument. This is not a legal right, and it is up to the employer to determine if you can, but there is always no harm in asking and finding out why.

  • What is the reason you want to continue working from home? If you just can’t be bothered to return to the office, it’s cheaper than travelling in or you feel more comfortable at home, then your employer is entitled to ask you to return into the office and if you refuse, can take necessary action against you.

  • Many employees are suffering from long term illnesses after contracting Covid-19 and alongside their underlying health conditions. Being able to work from home the past couple of years has proven to be effective for them and potentially for the business. If you have a medical condition and have sought occupation health, their recommendation may say for you to continue working flexibly until you are well enough to return.

    Occupational Health reports are only guidance’s for employers which they do not have to follow, however they should consider the advice and talk with you to agree on the best course of action. This could include things such as, a phased return to work, adjustments in the workplace and/or time off to recover from your illness.

    If you are still not happy with the employer’s response you may need to follow their process and raise the issue formally, where the employer is required to investigate your grievance following a fair procedure.

    If you are not happy with the grievance and the reasons the employer has given, you then may be able to make a claim in the employment tribunal. If you believe that you have a claim, please do not hesitate to contact our team so we can provide you with the correct advice and/or steps to take.

In short, employers can make you return to the workplace no matter how effective you believe you were working from home.

There are limited circumstances (including health and wellbeing) where you may be able to argue that working from home should be part of a reasonable adjustment due to a disability, or that you should be entitled to flexible working.

Remember- always check your employment contract to see what you are entitled to and, if necessary, make a flexible working request. More often than not, employers are accommodating and, if it works for their business and is proving to be cost effective, will allow within reason for a more flexible working approach. 

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