In depth

‘Hybrid’ office work guidance

Gateley Legal

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On 19 July 2021 restrictions including the work from home guidance ended. Arrangements are already underway in many businesses for offices to re-open to staff who may have spent over 15 months working from home.

It looks like the experience of working from home for so many over such a pro-longed period, will have a big impact on the organisation of office roles going forwards. Despite the fact that pre-pandemic the majority of employees never worked from home post-restrictions there is a demand for home working to continue that most businesses recognise and accept. 

It must also be recognised though that home working is not everyone’s ideal situation. Individuals may lack the space and having no access to a desk, printer and other facilities may have also made it difficult. It has also been an isolating and stressful experience for some as they missed out on the social aspects of working in a group and struggled to separate work from their free time.  

From this has grown the concept of hybrid working. The employee retains the flexibility and advantages of being able to work from home for part of the week whilst also being able to access the office for the other part of the week. 

Organising a working pattern 

The first point to address is what will be the split between home working and the office.

Will employees have to attend the office for the majority of the week still? For some having two days at home and three days in the office may be the best split. It may be worth assessing though whether employees might be better suited to a different working pattern. More junior employees may have missed out in particular from not attending the office and may want to attend more. On the other hand, some employees in roles which were already more suited to remote working might want fewer days in the office. Considering each person’s circumstances will help avoid disputes about the working arrangements going forward.    

Identifying which days that employees want to be in the office will be the next step. It will not make sense for everybody to be in Monday to Wednesday leaving nobody in the office on Thursday and Friday. Even though legal restrictions on social distancing have been removed caution is still be urged and employers will need to take steps to ensure that the workplace is COVID secure. That will mean limiting the number of employees that can safely attend the office on any given day. In practice employees might be invited to submit their preferences as a starting point and then plans made for a rota that will take these into account as far as possible. 

Line managers will need to be prepared to deal with an increase in statutory requests to work flexibly where the arrangements proposed do meet the employee’s expectations. Ensuring these requests are considered carefully will help avoid legal claims and maintain good employee relations.

Meetings between home and office

Whilst Teams, Zoom and other virtual communication platforms have enabled staff to safely keep in touch during the pandemic now that some will be in the office and others working from home consideration will need to be given as to how meetings will be conducted going forwards. 

In practice where there is a group face to face meeting in a room those that are attending remotely may feel that they are not part of it. One suggestion has been that all meetings continue to be conducted from an individual’s desk using the same platforms as previously. It might however be avoided provided training is provided and the right protocols followed so that those on a remote link up feel that they are part of the conversation.  

Legal considerations

The new working arrangements should be confirmed in writing. It should be set out whether this part home working arrangement is permanent and whether it might be subject to review.

If permanent contractual changes are being made in respect of place and hours of work a new ‘Written Statement of Particulars of Employment’ as required under section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 may need to be provided. 

Whereas employers are legally responsible for the health and safety of all employees, including those working from home, it will not generally be expected that a risk assessment will require the employer to visit the employee’s home. It will be necessary to ensure that employees have been provided with information on working safely at home and to check with them that they are able to do so.  In practice as homeworking has been the norm for so long during the pandemic this step will have ordinarily been taken already.

There is no legal duty on an employer to provide special equipment for working from home. However, if an individual has a disability, an employer may be under a duty of care to make a reasonable adjustment which might include providing an auxiliary aid to facilitate the disabled person’s performance of their role.

In relation to data protection legislation the same rules apply as if the employee was working full time in the office. Certain monitoring for essential business purposes may be necessary but employees are entitled to some privacy at work and an 'impact assessment' should be used to judge the degree of monitoring that might be justified. The data stored at home by the employee will need to be kept securely and reasonable steps should be taken to ensure this with reference to the relevant security provisions in the IT policy.

Would you like further guidance on the the concept of hybrid working?

If you would like further guidance please contact our expert listed below and visit our employment page for information on all of the services we offer.

Gateley Plc is authorised and regulated by the SRA (Solicitors' Regulation Authority). Please visit the SRA website for details of the professional conduct rules which Gateley Legal must comply with.

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