Are UK Employees Entitled To Keep Working From Home Due To The Pandemic?

Is the UK’s large-scale work-from-home experiment finally coming to an end? It isn’t easy to discern for definite. The UK Government is no longer asking people to work from home if practically possible and is instead expecting office-based working to be gradually phased back in over time.

However, in Microsoft research reported earlier this year, 71% of UK workers expressed a wish for flexible work options to remain even after the pandemic. So, whether you are currently working from home or would like to start doing so, what are your options in the here and now?

Are UK employees entitled to keep working from home due to the pandemic?

What was the state of flexible working before the pandemic? 

Prior to the pandemic, only about 5% of UK workers worked predominantly from home, reports the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development). Even the concept of ‘flexible working’ was understood rather differently from how it often is now. 

The term ‘flexible working’ has long been associated with many forms of working besides simply working from home. For example, people who work part-time or reduced hours, share jobs or adhere to staggered start and finish times have traditionally been classed as ‘flexible’ workers. 

Furthermore, it is generally thought that, even before the COVID crisis, demand for flexible working tended to exceed supply. This begs the question of whether many employers have shifted their pre-COVID stances on allowing their recruits to work in a more fluid way than the usual 9-5 manner. 

Might your employer be open to the possibility of you continuing to work from home? 

Sadly, several findings of the Microsoft study bode somewhat ill on this particular score. One in five UK workers indicated their conviction that their company is nonchalant about their work-life balance. Of the UK workers participating in the survey, 57% said they felt “overworked”, while 47% admitted to being “exhausted”. 

Nonetheless, 62% of business leaders surveyed said their company was considering redesigning its office space for hybrid work. Even if your own employer is not doing likewise, rights to flexible working are enshrined in UK law. 

Current legislation allows any employee having amassed over 26 weeks of continuous service to submit a formal request for flexible working – including home-based working. However, they are only permitted to make one such request in a 12-month period. 

Once the employer receives the request, they must consider it both in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable timeframe. If the employer does agree to the request, this permanently alters the employee’s contract of employment. 

What if you are the employer?

There are only a number of specific grounds on which you, as an employer, could turn down a request for flexible working. You could, for example, refuse the request if granting it would overburden the business with additional costs or detrimentally impact your company’s ability to satisfy customer demand. 

If your business currently has many employees working from home because of COVID, you could take up some flexible workspace that would save your company needing to spend more on workspace than strictly required.

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