22 September 2022
The Legalities of Working From Home
The Covid-19 pandemic left many employers with no choice but to suddenly adapt their usual business practices, adopting a homeworking system for employees in place of their usual working arrangements. This essential adjustment to remote working was well received by countless businesses, with many employers and employees alike embracing such a new working approach, enjoying the newfound flexibility it creates. Accordingly, whilst we appear to be nearing the end of the pandemic, it is possible that the phenomenon of homeworking may well be here to stay.
As many businesses seek to implement remote working practices on a more permanent basis, it is important to be aware of the legal aspects and considerations concerned. Some of the most important points to consider are discussed below.
Must employers accept home working requests from employees?
The right to request flexible working, which can include working from home, applies to any employee, provided they have a minimum of 26-weeks continuous service. It is the responsibility of the employee to submit such a request, in writing. Employers are legally obliged to consider the request and arrange a meeting within 28 days of receiving it. Your acceptance or refusal must be given in writing within 14 days of the meeting. However, an employer may only refuse a request under limited circumstances, outlined in the ‘Acas code of practice for handling requests in a reasonable manner’. It stipulates that a request can only be legally turned down if:
- it will cost your business too much;
- you cannot reorganise the work among other staff;
- you cannot recruit more staff;
- there will be a negative effect on quality;
- there will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand;
- there will be a negative effect on performance;
- there’s not enough work for your employee to do when they’ve requested to work; or
- there are planned changes to the business, for example, you intend to reorganise or change the business and think the request will not fit with these plans
Additionally, it is important to avoid discrimination when turning down a flexible working request. It is illegal to turn down an employees request because of their:
- gender reassignment;
- marriage and civil partnership;
- pregnancy and maternity;
- religion or belief;
- sex; or
- sexual orientation
Doing so can result in your employee taking you to an employment tribunal.
Are employers responsible for the health and safety of flexible workers?
The legal duty of employers to ensure the health and safety of employees includes all employees, even those working from home, and the usual duty of care requirements apply. Whilst many employees’ remote working environments were unable to be checked by their employers during the unprecedented lockdown, any long-term arrangements for homeworking should henceforth adopt a system for health and safety home inspections.
Are employers required to issue their employees with a new employment contract if they switch to home working?
Whether a new employment contract is needed for an employee who switches from office-based working to home working will depend on the exact wording of the existing contract. If their existing employment contract provides for such a change, or leaves such matters up to discretion, a new contract may not be necessary. However, if the switch to home working significantly changes the terms and conditions of employment, their contract will need to be amended.
If in doubt take legal advice from the team at Cook Corporate Solicitors.