With the Employment Bill back in the limelight, Amanda Badley, head of employment at BHW Solicitors, a leading UK law firm, urges employers to find a synergy between business need vs business want.
The proposed Employment Bill (Bill) has been in the pipeline for some time, being first announced in 2019. One of the fundamental elements of the Bill is to make flexible working the default position; effectively flipping the current situation in which employees’ only have a right to request flexible working.
Over the last 18 months, the Bill was placed on the back burner, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the Labour party are now pushing for the Bill to be at the forefront of the Employment Law agenda.
The pandemic has forced both businesses and their employees to work differently, changing the working landscape considerably. Unsurprisingly, many more people (including business owners) now want the option to work from home, at least for part of their working week.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has reported that the number of people working from home in 2020 increased to 37%, up from 27% in 2019. Further, job adverts referring to homeworking are three times above that which were recorded in February 2020, suggesting that many businesses are going to adopt permanent hybrid working arrangements for their office-based staff.
This trend is likely to encourage the implementation of the Bill and therefore flexible working as the default position. It is therefore important that organisations consider what this means for them, and how they will navigate the potential difficulties this presents.
When speaking with clients, I advise them to first consider how flexible working fits with their business operations currently. While it is important to embrace the changes on the horizon regarding flexible working, there has to be a balance with ensuring businesses continue to run efficiently and effectively, as there is no one size fits all.
Employees are likely to push for flexible arrangements that suit their lifestyle, or give them a better work/life balance, and while a positive attitude from employers is key when considering these requests, compromise between the parties is essential. There may also be times where flexible working simply cannot be accommodated, and others, where the employer has no justification for not permitting it.
Whilst my experience is that most employees have, at a minimum, wanted to return to office- based working on a part time basis, there are still employees that are reticent to return to office working. This has been for a number of reasons; however, health and safety concerns are prominent due to the pandemic. Some employees have raised issue with working alongside colleagues who are not vaccinated. Unsurprisingly, employees who are vulnerable or pregnant have also raised concerns about returning to the workspace. More generally, employees may have strong views about the policy decisions of the employer, for example, lateral flow testing and the wearing of masks. These latter issues have been raised with me regularly.
I always reassure clients that juggling government guidance and regulations will be difficult and there will always be employees to challenge policy decisions made. As long as employers have well thought out policies and procedures in place to protect staff, and they have justifiable reasons for requesting employees to return to the workspace, they should not be afraid to request them to do so.
When approaching the concept of flexible working, there are certain considerations and steps that I recommend businesses take:
The way in which people work has drastically changed over the past two years. With offices being redesigned, the increase in remote Zoom meetings and many businesses undergoing structural changes, it’s more important now than ever before, for employers to demonstrate themselves as innovative and forward-thinking in the face of continual change, while helping with the retention of morale, motivation, and mental health in the workplace.