In an age of overcrowded transport links and escalating office overheads it is unsurprising many emp...
In an age of overcrowded transport links and escalating office overheads it is unsurprising many employers are embracing home working, especially as technology improves. However, it is a common misconception that working from home is equivalent to "skiving off". In fact the advantages are often far reaching.
• Increased productivity - employees find it easier to concentrate.
• Cost saving in respect of office space and overheads.
• Less absenteeism - unwell employees could feel well enough to work from home.
• Improved morale.
• Family friendly - wider pool of potential employees. Happier staff in control of their work/life balance.
• Employers cannot 'keep their eye' on off-site employees.
• Other staff members may feel home workers are difficult to contact, and their physical absence may put pressure on those in the office.
Employees have a statutory right under the Employment Act 2002 (as amended) to request flexible working. This could include a change in hours, working part-time or home working. Those who qualify for the right are: parents of children under six, or disabled children under 18; carers of adults who are the spouse, partner, relative or someone who lives at the same address.
Employers must consider the request and may refuse if there is a clear business reason which falls under one of the statutory grounds. These include burden of additional costs and whether there is a detrimental impact on quality or performance. Failure to deal with such applications properly could lead to financial penalties and sex discrimination claims.
If an employer refuses a flexible working request there is potential for a sex discrimination claim and, with unlimited damages, this is a substantial risk. A flexible working policy or practice which applies universally across the workforce may be indirectly discriminatory. For example, if employees are required to be at work between the core hours of 8.30am and 4.30pm, this could have an indirect impact on mothers who need to pick their children up from school. While indirect discrimination can be justified with legitimate reasons, employers are increasingly expected to accommodate flexible working requests.
It is worth remembering an employer remains responsible for the health and safety of its employees, including those who work at home, and is obliged to carry out a risk assessment at the employee's home to ensure it is a safe working environment.
Embracing 'flexible working' is daunting for many employers as organisational, facility, culture and management changes may be necessary; the key to this is a technology infrastructure which can cope effectively and reliably. The office may become a thing of the past with its only benefit being personal and social networking. Conservative MP Boris Johnson suggested last week: "We may not like work very much, but we do like our offices. It is the place we like to go during the day, just as baboons choose to congregate on some special kop or crag." Perhaps then we will all miss the 'office gossip'. Only time will tell how working practices will adjust.
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