Can employers insist on on hybrid working?
A BBC survey of 50 large employers has revealed that 86% aren’t planning a full-time return to the office once lockdown measures are relaxed, but are instead looking to encourage a hybrid model of office and homeworking. How do employers implement hybrid working and can they force staff to permanently work from home for part of the week?
A hybrid model generally involves employees working from home two to three days a week, but it could be more or less than this. If employees want to request to work from home for some of their working week, they would normally need to submit a statutory flexible working application. However, if a hybrid model is something an employer actively wants to encourage, they should start communications with their employees now, with the aim of reaching an agreement with everyone and seeing off formal flexible working requests later. They shoudl remember though that, if they also plan to downsize the office space, a hybrid model won’t work if everyone wants to work from home on Mondays and Fridays.
If some employees want to return to the office on a full-time basis, the employer can only lawfully change their place of work, as set out in their employment contract, either with their consent or in accordance with the terms of that contract (and it’s unlikely a contractual mobility clause will specifically cover a workplace move to the employee’s home address). Some employees want to be in the office for mental health or other reasons, such as those who live alone or who don’t have a suitable space to work at home, so employers must be prepared to listen to such concerns and be flexible in their approach. Health and safety obligations to staff include protecting their mental health at work and ensuring they have a suitable workspace.
Once hybrid working arrangements with staff have been agreed, obtaining their consent in writing, they should be provided with a written statement of changes to their employment contract, confirming their revised place of work for the days that they’ll be homeworking. In addition, if the employer wants to potentially have the right to bring them back to the office on more days at a later date, they should write some flexibility into their new place of work clause.