The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way many employers and employees view flexible working. But there are differences between flexible working in the legal sense, and “working flexibly”, as a workplace concept.
Legally, once the Government has lifted the “stay home” requirement, employers can request that their employees go back to working from the office and working 9 to 5, as per their employment contract. If the employee refuses, this could be considered breach of contract, and result in dismissal. But what are the alternatives?
Any employee that has over 26 weeks’ service can make a formal flexible working request in law, and that can be for any reason. A flexible working request can be a request to change their hours, the times they’re required to work, or the place of work – and would include a request to work from home.
There is no automatic right for an employee to be granted their flexible working request, and the grounds set out in law for refusal are wide. Most businesses would, historically, be able to reasonably refuse a request under one of the grounds that suit their business. But if a business has operated successfully throughout the pandemic, it may be more difficult for them to refuse a request to work from home on the grounds that it’s “not workable”, and for businesses that have excelled during the pandemic – why change?
While there is a statutory framework in place to support flexible working, a number of businesses have decided to adopt flexibility as the default position in their workplaces in any event, post-pandemic. This comes with its own challenges (notably health and safety, salary weightings, supervision of junior staff), but people who have enjoyed a hybrid approach to working during lockdown may be more likely to apply to and/or stay at a business that has abandoned rigidity.
There nonetheless has to be a balance between taking a relaxed approach and ensuring boundaries remain in place, Afterall, structure is something that many employees have been desperate to re-establish in post-pandemic life.
To learn more about how you can make the most of flexible working/working flexibly in the context of your own organisation, please do join us on Tuesday 7th September at 9:00am (Registration at 8:30am) for an exclusive, interactive session delivered in person by our employment law experts.
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