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Are your employees continuing to work from home? Now’s the time to review your employment contracts

For more than a year, the Government has encouraged people to ‘work from home if they can’ to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Following the lifting of restrictions on 19 July, the country has, perhaps surprisingly, not seen a widespread rush to return to the office.

Many companies are allowing flexible working to continue and a large number of employees, who have become used to the ‘new normal’ of working from home, may be reluctant to return to the workplace.

Here, Amanda Hyam, a Senior Associate with Mander Hadley, who specialises in employment law, explains what employers need to consider, before agreeing to home-working as a permanent option:

There are a number of reasons why flexible homeworking may benefit employers and staff alike and the arrangement will always work best where the needs of both parties are balanced.

Benefits often include:

  • Reduced office overheads
  • Increased productivity
  • Wider talent pool when recruiting
  • Green credentials

Whilst homeworking can be beneficial, it is important to weigh up all the considerations before making the decision on whether or not to allow an employee to work from home either all or some of the time.

It is also worth remembering that homeworking will not suit every employee as some people can find the experience isolating which can, in turn, impact on their mental health.

Setting up a company homeworking policy

If you decide that homeworking is an option for your business it is important to put in place a comprehensive agreement so that both you and your employees are clear about what is acceptable and expected.

Your policy should include assessing whether or not a homeworking arrangement will be practical, effective and meet business needs.

It should include how homeworkers will be managed, and cover issues such as taxation, expenses, equipment and the security of your company’s sensitive data.

Homeworking policies should be put in writing and regularly reviewed to ensure that the arrangement is working for both you and your employees. Any amendments to the policy should be agreed before being implemented.

Variation to an employee’s contract

It is also important to review your employees’ contracts as this document will usually state an individual’s normal place of work.

Some contracts will allow a change to be made under a ‘flexibility or variation clause.’ Such contracts will normally state that the employer may change or ‘vary’ specific terms of employment, such as hours worked, rates of pay, or place of work.

If there is a flexibility clause in the contract which, for example, states that you can ask your member of staff to work anywhere in the country, you can change their place of work without having to redraft the contract.

In such circumstances, it is still a good idea to consult with the employee to ensure they are on board with the idea.

If your employee contracts do not contain a flexibility clause which covers the proposed homeworking change, you and your employees will need to agree to the change before it is implemented. Even though your employees may have been homeworking in recent months due to lockdown, you must still consult with them if you are considering making homeworking permanent on either a full or part-time basis.

Put the changes in writing 

Many employers are not aware that if the employee’s written terms were provided before 6 April 2020 and subsequently need to change, you must:

  • Put any changes to the existing terms in writing
  • Ensure any extra information required for new written terms since 6 April 2020 are also provided in writing

A change of work location is classed as a significant change which means it is a legal requirement to update your employee’s ‘written statement of employment particulars’.

You must notify the employee of the change in writing within a month of the change taking effect.

Find out more

The employment team at Mander Hadley are able to provide expert advice and practical support to employers, so if you are planning to vary your employees’ contracts or need additional information about putting in place a homeworking agreement for your company, please get in touch with us.

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