The Great Return?

Where are we now

Although the stay-at-home rule is no longer a legal requirement in Wales, guidance from the Welsh Government is clear that employees should continue to work from home if they can, at least for the time being. Nevertheless, we would suggest that it would be beneficial for employers to build in some flexibility to allow those with homeworking difficulties to return to the office, for example those who are suffering with mental health issues or domestic violence.

Planning the return

Research by the CIPD and YouGov reveals that, after lockdown ends and the threat of the pandemic subsides the majority of UK knowledge workers are in favour of a move towards a blended or hybrid working model which would allow working time to be split between the office and home. Adopting a hybrid type model will require a vast culture shift for many organisations.  Set out below are some key practical and legal considerations for employers who are looking to adopt a hybrid model moving forward:

  • Building back better – now is a pivotal time for employers to consider how they will shape their organisation’s culture and working practices, not least to attract and maintain their people talent. There is no doubt that the move to remote working has opened up vast recruitment opportunities – many employees living and working in Wales have been approached by London firms offering remote working options and/or limited travel to the city with remuneration packages that some employers are simply unable to compete with. Therefore, staff engagement and consulting with staff will be key and should ideally underpin working practices moving forward when adopting a hybrid model. 
  • Health and safety – The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 provides that employers should “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of employees”. Therefore, with (potentially) more employees working from the office employers should consider whether their workplace is COVID-secure, refresh their COVID-19 risk assessment, implement it and keep it under review. To assist, employers should consider the government’s  COVID-19 secure guidelines which is applicable to them (one of 14 guides for different workplaces). Indeed, they may need to consider a number of the guidelines where a workplace lends itself to a number of different set ups i.e., factory floor and offices. As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for homeworkers as for any other workers. If not already, we would suggest that employers carry out an individual display screen equipment workstation assessment to identify risks, and then control these risks – i.e. by providing suitable equipment. Employers may wish to ask employees to send a photo of their workstation if you need to carry out the workstation assessment remotely. Advise employees that whilst working from home it is their responsibility to regulate their working time and take breaks. Employers may also wish to consider wellbeing support (perhaps via an Employee Assistance Programme) especially in relation to employees who may be anxious about returning to the workplace as well as those working from home who may feel isolated.
  • Contractual terms – Organisations will need to give careful thought to the contractual implications of hybrid working. Where employees make a formal request for hybrid working through a flexible working policy which is accepted this will amount to a formal change to terms of employment. Hybrid working can also be undertaken on an informal basis without a contractual change which most clients are leaning towards, at least in the short term. Employers therefore may wish to implement a non-contractual hybrid policy which includes key information around:
    • Which role types are eligible for hybrid working;
    • How to request hybrid working;
    • Clarifying responsibilities and setting parameters for hybrid workers and managers.
    • Employers should think about whether attendance in the office will be required for a set number of days/ on particular days, or whether the arrangement will be flexible enough for employees to make the choice – the risk assessment may inform this; and
    • The interaction between other related policies including, data protection, expenses, IT usage and homeworking.
  • Confidentiality and data protection – To avert the risk of data breaches, employers should communicate homeworking parameters on IT security, maintaining confidentiality when working in a shared space and appropriate storage and destruction of printed documents and obligations around the return of property / confidential information upon termination.
  • Employee Engagement – Remote working brings challenges in sustaining workforce engagement and the risk of diminished productivity. Communication is key in overcoming this challenge and employers may want to consider ensuring there is fair allocation of work and opportunities, including promotion opportunities – managers will no doubt play a key role and therefore may benefit from training on issues such as effective communication, supervision; monitoring performance and holding online team meetings and remote appraisals.

As each employer’s hybrid working strategy evolves, in an attempt to reduce the risk of commercial and employment disputes, it is sensible to take proactive steps along the path to ensure that each business starts off on the right foot and to ensure that at each stage, any potential risks are identified, and where possible, mitigated.

If you would like more information about any of the issues raised in this article or on any other aspect of employment law, please contact us on 029 2034 5511 or at