Inspired by the global disruption to traditional working practices caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, is a hybrid model of working where employees work part-time from the workplace and part-time from home, suited to your organisation?
In last month’s blog post, we looked at the overriding changes organisations would need to consider when making the shift to a hybrid pattern of working.
In this month’s blog, we will be looking at the legal aspects and considerations involved in making the shift happen successfully.
The Legal Aspects Of ‘Hybrid’ Working
A move to hybrid working can be a massive change for any organisation, so it is vital that the legal aspects are handled properly. We’ll be focusing largely on communications, Contracts of Employment, and Health and Safety.
We cannot overstate the importance of good communications throughout the process of making this potential shift in working style. Handing down change that lacks the involvement or agreement of those most affected by it will inevitably lead to difficulties, so it is best to use a consultative approach.
Senior management and the HR team (or their designated representative in the absence of an in-house HR Advisor), should firstly make a general announcement to the whole organisation, as to the proposed changes. Depending on the size of the organisation, this should be followed by meetings with smaller groups of employees to discuss the changes and respond to any questions or concerns. Finally, line managers should hold meetings with individual employees to further discuss any remaining concerns, and to go over expectations from both sides.
Employers need to provide absolute clarity on what the new arrangements will be for employees, and the adjustments that will be made to their Contracts of Employment. Although hybrid working can offer more flexibility, it is essential that any restrictions and expectations are made clear from the outset. For example, if working in a role where data protection, financial information and security are particular concerns, restrictions should apply to prevent working in public spaces and using public WiFi, which is typically less secure than private/home WiFi. There should also be advice as to the process for working outside of the UK, as, depending on the location, this can have immigration, data protection and tax implications.
By approaching this from a consultative angle the employer will also be able to identify any employees for whom working remotely is unsuitable or impractical. Their living arrangements may not be conducive to working, or they may have caring responsibilities or other personal circumstances that make it difficult to work from home. There may be employees with protected characteristics such as mental health issues that would make working remotely challenging, where they may have ‘coped’ during the pandemic as it was viewed as a short-term solution. In these cases, it is worth discussing the possibility of their continuing to work from the workplace on a full-time basis. Do take particular care in your approach in case these adjustments inadvertently reveal private details about the employee to their colleagues.
Once all details are finalised, arrangements agreed and meetings held, a formal letter should be issued to the employee (usually known as an Addendum), confirming all changes as discussed, and the employee should confirm in writing that they have understood and are happy with the new arrangements and variations. Alternatively, a revised Contract of Employment could be issued. This leads us nicely on to the aforementioned Contracts of Employment.
Contracts of Employment
Unless your existing Contracts of Employment already contain a mobility clause (one that covers the usual place of work, as well as other working locations as and when the role requires it), it is likely that you will need to amend your Contracts to reflect the new hybrid model going forward.
Updated or new clauses would need to state the days of the week that the employee is required to attend the workplace, and which ones they are expected to work from home or remotely, unless a more flexible approach is agreed in which case this should also be clearly stated.
If your organisation has other locations, such as regional or satellite offices, for example, it is a good idea to make reference to these as a part of the new clauses, to give your employees the flexibility to work from other offices when and where available, should working from home be unsuitable at times.
It may also be advisable to build in a review period and reserve the right to change working arrangements again, just in case they need to be modified.
Health & Safety Considerations
Employers remain responsible for the Health and Safety of their employees, whether they are in the workplace or working remotely.
Given the relatively sudden nature of the pandemic’s onset, many of us were forced to make the shift to working from home at very short notice. For many people, this meant rushing to set ourselves up with whatever technology and tools we could get hold of, as a matter of urgency. As a ‘hybrid model’ would usher in a new era of working from home on a regular basis, employers must ensure that home-working risk assessments are carried out, if they haven’t already, and provide equipment where needed, to ensure all employees are appropriately, safely and adequately set up for the long-term.
Many employers have questioned whether they should be providing for work-from-home expenses. While this is not a legal requirement, unless stipulated in their Contract of Employment, it is good practice to support employees from the outset wherever finances are available to do so, for basics such as extra electricity and heating used, through to obtaining faster Internet. To cover this further, employers can look into tax relief for household expenses (up to £6 per week).
Now would be a good time to overhaul your policies regarding all expense payments and ensure they are aligned with your future plans. For example, do you offer loans for season train ticket holders? Will this still be offered, or will you consider a travel allowance instead? As previously advised, we strongly encourage you to consult with your employees regarding changes you intend to make to your employment policies and Contracts of Employment before implementing them.
Just as we concluded in part 1 of this blog series, a move to a hybrid model would involve flexibility, creativity, communication and adjustment. From the legal side, it requires an organisation-wide effort, co-operation and a great deal of consideration towards the varied needs of everyone involved. So, while the process is simple, it is not necessarily easy! However, the hybrid model does potentially offer benefits that could leave organisations in a stronger, more flexible position to weather storms in the future.
If you would like further advice or have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.