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Is working from home a legal right held by UK workers?

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The return to the office was always going to spark some conversation and controversy - and it seems that the main argument right now is around legality and the legal right of UK workers to work from home. At one point, it seemed as though a genuine legislation might be brought into force which gave workers the right to work from home, however all legal talk has now been scrapped in favour of guidelines and good, British, old-fashioned debate.

In this blog we will consider both sides of the argument, tapping into the benefits and drawbacks of working from home both from an employee and an employer point of view.

Where the debate came from

For the past year or so, LinkedIn has been full of polls and opinion pieces shared by industry professionals around the world and across every area of business, asking for thoughts on the concept of working from home and whether people like it or not. While some revel in the freedom and the ability to spend more time with family and creating more of a work-life balance, others have been fighting the office fight for months.

The latest debate has been sparked by the UK government who, on 17th June 2921, were reported by the Guardian as considering a legislation that allows workers to request working from home as part of their contract. This would mean that flexible working was a viable option for anyone who could logistically and safely work away from the office, though the talk around this becoming a legal right has already been scrapped in early conversations.

But does the lack of a legal standpoint mean that employers can simply bypass and ignore the legislation?

In short, the argument remains that businesses should have the final say over who can and cannot work from home - and that this can never become a legal case because every business works and operates in a different way. What works for one may not work for another, as discussed by the Confederation of British Industry who stated that “The default must remain that businesses control where work is done. While they will need to talk with workers about this, accommodate flexibility where they can and explain these decisions, it can’t be unduly onerous to do so […]”.

The ‘right to request’ - what does it mean?

The ‘right to request’ essentially gives employees and workers the right to request more workplace flexibility either as part of their contract or as we navigate the new world of work post-pandemic. Crucially, this request should be met with a thorough exploration of the possibility of the request being granted, with businesses accommodating flexibility wherever possible to safeguard workers’ rights.

What LinkedIn is saying

When you want to capture a wide-angle view on a certain issue or point of contention, turn to LinkedIn. The hub and social media platform chosen by professionals on every level and across every industry, LinkedIn has indeed risen to this debate to share its views, with professionals offering various viewpoints from different sides of the argument.

For the most part, it seems that workers are happy to proceed on a case of flexibility rather than legality, with workplaces encouraging their workers to operate both within and outside of the office as suits both them and the company. Crucially, this leans on the idea of balance and creating a workplace which is understanding of individual needs.

Another area of focus considered by many is how working from home will impact the workplace protection and right to safe working conditions - with businesses unable to hold the same amount of control over the working conditions of someone at home. This would change the way a lot of businesses operate in terms of their benefits and safety policies, again arguing for the idea of businesses being as flexible as possible but without a legal need to meet these requests.

Other arguments which must be considered include the ability of employers to monitor progress and employee wellbeing from home, provide adequate support, and deliver the same results as might be seen when working within an office environment. The crux of the matter is that a decision cannot be reached to support a work-life balance if this means that the work being done loses productivity and efficiency - something that employers and business owners must assess in detail before reaching a decision on how their own organisation can proceed.

The Takeaway

Working from home and the home-working / office-working debate has been active for almost a year, with businesses more focussed than ever before on giving employees the flexibility they want in order to retain staff, while still ensuring that work is done properly and under the same level of productivity.

For the most part, the concept of a working from legislation has been met with caution and a belief that individual businesses should be able to design their own working from home policies based on their operational style and the responsibilities of workers. Productivity and logistics must be factored into this kind of conversation, with workers and employers needing to work together to reach the kind of arrangement that suits both parties.