Ministers have denied that there will be a post-pandemic ‘right to work from home’ after reports emerged yesterday (17 June) suggesting this might be the case.
Reports in the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard suggested that the government was drawing up plans to give workers a default right to work from home, making it illegal to force them back to the office.
The reports quoted a Whitehall source as saying: “We are looking at introducing a default right to flexible working. That would cover things like reasonable requests by parents to start late so they can drop their kids at childcare.
“But in the case of office workers in particular it would also cover working from home – that would be the default right unless the employer could show a good reason why someone should not.”
Ministers responded by emphasising there would be no legal right to work from home, and that they were fulfilling a pledge in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to consult on making flexible working a day-one right unless an employer has a good reason not to.
If the consultation decides that flexible working should be a default right, this should feature in the forthcoming Employment Bill, which has been delayed due to the pandemic.
A number of unions and trade bodies have called for a default right to flexible working from employee’s first day, including the CIPD and the TUC.
Employees currently have the right to request flexible working if they have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks.
Responding to the reports, Matthew Percival, director of people and skills at the CBI, said that employers should be able to decide the location of work.
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“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. That’s why a ‘right to request’ approach is the right one,” he said.
The proposed lifting of all coronavirus restrictions has been delayed for four weeks from 21 June to 19 July, meaning government guidance remains in place to work from home where possible.
However, a report by the TUC today (18 June) found that access to flexible working arrangements was more likely for those in higher paid roles, creating the potential for an “emerging class divide”.
Two-thirds of businesses continue to offer some remote working, according to a recent survey from the British Chambers of Commerce, while almost three-quarters expected to have at least one team member continuing to work remotely over the coming year.
A poll by the BBC found that most major employers were planning to introduce hybrid working patterns post-pandemic, with four in five saying this was the case.