With lockdown lifting, both employers and employees are starting to think about their return to the office. Many are deciding to embrace flexible working permanently by adopting a hybrid office model. While this is expected to do wonders for employees work/life balance, it throws up many questions for employers.
While flexible working seems to be a standard thing nowadays, if employers plan to move forward with the hybrid working model, there are several legal things to consider. We asked Louise Lawrence, partner at Winckworth Sherwood LLP, what employers should be lining up in order to implement a legally sound hybrid office model.
It’s time to review your contracts of employment
Most employment contracts will list the office as the place of work. If you’re moving to permeant home working, or an employee chooses to stay working from home, then employers will need to consult with employees and communicate changes to their contract.
If you’re going for a hybrid model, you will need to know how to incorporate that change into contracts too. Also, employers will need to consider their policies. For example, you will need a new working from home policy that clearly sets out what obligations there are in terms of confidentiality and data protection.
Similarly, employers will need to be able to guarantee that hybrid or home workers aren’t putting in more hours than they are contractually obliged. Many people are enjoying the flexibility of home working but struggle to shut off at the end of the day. The blurring of lines between the office and home is what is driving many back into the office. But for those who would rather stay at home, how will an employer make sure that they are clocking off when they are supposed to? It’s a bigger issue with no clear answer at the moment as we all navigate this new work pattern. But having employment contracts updated and pre-empting these problems will hugely pay off in the long-term.
Responsibilities of employers for hybrid employees
There is also the issue of how employers will be assisting employees working from home. Of course, up until this point, everything has been fairly casual. Businesses have had to wing the home working situation to comply with the governments stay at home guidelines. But as we move into this infamous ‘new normal’, businesses need to seriously think about the legalities of permanent home workers.
For example, employers need to be able to prove that their employees are working in a safe home environment. This means that businesses will need to conduct risk assessments for each individual employee. This will be a time-intensive and potentially costly challenge. However, the benefit of employee happiness and security far outweighs any cost when it comes to retaining talent. So, the financial aspect is something to factor into future contractual and policy changes.
What are employers liable to pay for?
If employees choose to either stay at home or go for the hybrid model, employers need to ensure they have everything they would have in the office at home. Employees working from home need to have access to the basics that they need in order to do their job. So, for example, a computer, phone, additional screens, computer accessories and so on.
But where do you draw the line as an employer – what do you need to pay for outside of the basics? There are many ongoing debates in regards to what employers are financially liable for when it comes to hybrid and home-working employees. For instance, do employers need to pay for ergonomic chairs? Is a printer included as part of the basic set up? Do employers need to pay for employees WiFi bills?
For now, most of these are at the discretion of the business. However, it’s wise to expect things to change as the hybrid office becomes more legitimate. Alongside this, there could potentially be new employment laws in the future.
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