As we see a relaxation in the COVID-19 restrictions bringing people back into the office, many employees are questioning why there is a need to return to the office at all provided they have been working effectively from home during the entirety of the pandemic.
This puts employers in a difficult position and begs many questions – do we force our staff to return if it is going to severely affect attitude and morale? Do they really need to come back?
For many businesses, the answer to this has been to adopt a hybrid working system which allows employees to split their time between the workplace and working remotely (from home or elsewhere).
ACAS has recently produced several detailed guides on the repercussions of hybrid working for employers, including:
- Key considerations for employers and how to respond to hybrid-working requests;
- Why it is a good idea for employers to consult on hybrid working, when you must do it and what it involved – including checking contracts of employment;
- Creating a hybrid working policy to ensure that if you are offering this working routine that employees know what is expected of them to ensure consistency across your workforce;
- How to treat staff fairly and avoid discrimination when introducing hybrid-working;
- How to support and manage staff who are hybrid-working including health and wellbeing plans, performance management and training.
It is prudent for employers to familiarise themselves with these ‘gold-standard’ ACAS guides if they are thinking of or currently allow a degree of hybrid-working to some or all employees. This will ensure that HR staff and managers are equipped with the correct knowledge to avoid falling foul of any direct/indirect discrimination claims due to the hybrid-working arrangements in place.
Such discrimination claims can arise when a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) is applied that puts an employee with a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage compared to others which cannot be justified. With employees occasionally working from home under a hybrid policy, there will inevitably be less transparency and a greater risk of potentially putting certain groups at a disadvantage compared to others, such as those with caring responsibilities. Employers should ensure that there are no differences in treatment (ie. training opportunities, promotions, salary increases, benefits and bonuses etc) between those who work primarily from the office and those working from home to avoid such claims going forward.
If you require and advice and support on this, please contact Burnetts’ Employment Law & HR team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01228552222.