Working From Home, Post-Covid

Lockdowns may now seem like a distant memory, but for numerous UK employees, working from home has become the norm, and is perceived as their right. Many employees argue that they get more work done at home, that they can balance their home and work responsibilities better and that both parties save money: the employer on office space and utility bills, and the employee on transportation costs.

However, not all employers are happy about the situation. Some, especially in industries where it is difficult to monitor employees’ work output, suspect employees of spending more time doing childcare, tackling domestic chores and watching tv than doing actual work.

It is possible to track employees’ workload, by methods such as keystroke monitoring on their laptops, audio recordings of their telephone calls or tracking websites visited. This is legal as long as it complies with data protection laws; notably, employees must be told about the monitoring and why it is being done. There are limited exceptions to this, such as when criminal activity is suspected. The main disadvantage of such monitoring is that employees may feel stressed or unhappy at what they perceive to be a lack of trust or an invasion of privacy. The monitoring may also not be accurate for employees who use non-digital materials to complete their work.

Certain companies, such as Boots, are now asking that their employees now return to the office full time. Others are providing incentives to come back, for example a free lunch, or promotion being made more likely. Advantages commonly cited for returning to the office are: a boost to team morale and spirit, setting a distinct boundary between home life and work life, social interaction, and increased productivity. However, employees may resent the loss of the flexibility to which they have become accustomed.

There has been a recent increase in tribunal cases relating to this topic, most involving an employee whose request to work from home has been rejected.

In the recent case of Wilson v Financial Conduct Authority, Miss Wilson worked from home during the pandemic. After restrictions lifted, the FCA requested that its employees worked in the office for 40% of their hours. Miss Wilson, a senior manager, made a flexible working request to work from home all the time, pointing out that her performance while doing so previously had been exceptional. Her request was turned down on the grounds that working from home permanently would have a negative impact on performance and quality. Her appeal was refused.

She brought a tribunal claim for breach of the flexible working regulations, hoping that the tribunal would order the FCA to reconsider. She claimed that the FCA had not told her of the appeal outcome within the statutory time limit of three months and also that the FCA had rejected her application based on ‘incorrect facts’. The tribunal agreed that the FCA had responded too late, and awarded Miss Wilson one week’s pay as compensation. However, the tribunal held that the FCA had considered the facts of the matter carefully and that its view that working from home would cause performance and quality to suffer was reasonable. This case shows that employees do not have an automatic right to work from home, and that each case must be carefully considered on its own merits. Employers should not have a blanket policy, but instead should look at the facts of each employee’s situation.

If you have any questions, please contact us for advice by emailing enquiries@perspectivehr.co.uk or by phoning 01392 247436.

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