Is there a law regarding the right to work from home?

Considering the rising digitalization of many industries, flexible working is a topic of growing importance. For many employees, working from home provides greater flexibility and a better work-life balance. Because staff no longer have to travel to their place of work, they have more time for family, hobbies, and other activities without needing to reduce their hours or lose pay. This sounds ideal, but of course there are challenges to working from home, which is why some employers don’t want to introduce it. Do you have a right to work from home? What kinds of flexible working are there? How do you apply to work from home? We’ll guide you through the process.

Working from home rights – Do you have a right to flexible working?

Whilst some countries such as the Netherlands have already established laws governing the working from an office in your home, the situation in the UK is a little different, and on top of that, the laws in Northern Ireland also differ to those in the rest of the UK. Whether or not you’re entitled to work at home depends on a few factors, so we can’t speak of a “right” to work at home as such. However, the UK does have comprehensive laws regarding flexible working, to which all employees are entitled after 26 weeks of regular employment by the same employer. What kind of flexible work you are entitled to varies, but it may be the case that you do indeed have some form of a right to work from home.

Note

The Coronavirus pandemic meant that a lot of people were asked to work from home, even if ordinarily they would work in an office, or in a school for example. It is unclear how things will change in the future due to the consequences of Coronavirus, but for now there have been no permanent changes to a right to work from home in normal times, or a change to flexible working in the UK.

What kinds of flexible working exist in the UK?

When asking yourself whether you are entitled to work at home, it is good to be aware of the fact that working from home is only one form of flexible working. As mentioned above, all employees are entitled to flexible working after 26 weeks – half a year – of regular employment by one employer, but this does not mean that employees are necessarily entitled to work at home after this period. The laws around this are complex, but the government has summarised the types of flexible working online to help you understand the forms. There are a few different types of flexible working: Working from home, but also staggered working hours, flexitime and part-time. If you apply to work from home, it might be that your employer offers you one of these forms for flexible working instead. How should your employer respond to these requests? How often can you file these requests? What happens if you’re denied home office? Read on to find out more.

Do employers have to acknowledge a right to work from home?

Generally, an employer may suggest home working to staff. Working from home can be beneficial to all, but it can also be difficult: Insurance for home workers is not the same across all professions. Can you even equip your home office ergonomically? Although the use of a home office is becoming ever more popular, it shouldn’t be taken as an ‘easy’ option, which is why a proper application should be made. How to make this application will be explained below, but before you dive in, you may wish to know what kind of a response you could receive, and to know whether you are being treated fairly.

As mentioned before, all employees can make a request to work from home, meaning that everyone does have, in a loose sense, an entitlement to work from home, or rather they at least have the right to request this possibility. Gov.uk state that ‘‘Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’’. Unfortunately, it is not entirely clear what reasonable means here, but this of course depends on the context. Luckily, ACAS have developed a code of practice on flexible working requests, and your right to work from home could be considered fairly, if your employer sticks to these guidelines. Check out ACAS’ advice on the subject, available as a PDF download. On their flexible working page, gov.uk state that employers are encouraged to:

  • Ensure that they have considered the pros and cons of their employee’s application
  • Make sure they communicate with their employee and have a meeting to talk about the request with the employee
  • Make sure the employee knows about the appeals process

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Conditions for working from home

When offering flexible working, it’s important that both employees and employers know what the new form of working flexibly entails. When a business wishes to introduce working from a home office, or when an employee wants to apply for flexible working, it is important that both sides consider the following:

  • Is the job generally executable from home? Whilst most office workers will be able to perform their jobs working from home, certain professional groups must attend their place of work, for example, doctors, sales personnel, or mechanics.
  • How often is an employee allowed to work from home?
  • How may the employee be reached when working flexibly?
  • Are there any core hours of business during which employees must be reachable?
  • How is overtime treated? Is overtime even possible?
  • How are break times defined?
  • Is there a means to record/log working hours?
  • What materials does the employer provide?
  • How are data security and safety at work guaranteed?
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Working from home law: What happens if you’re denied a request?

It is up to your employer to determine whether you’re entitled to work from home, if you make a request for flexible working. Because the legal request takes the form of a flexible working request, you may be offered another form of flexible working instead. This is not unreasonable. If you are denied your application for flexible working, you should consider if your employer has acted reasonably. In the paragraph “Do employers have to acknowledge a right to work from home?”, you can read up on what constitutes a reasonable response.

However, if your request is denied and you think this has not been handled reasonably, you can take your employer to an employment tribunal. This is not an ideal situation to put yourself or your employer in, so try to communicate with your boss before doing this to save yourself the hassle.

Note

You can apply for flexible working once every 12 months. This is part of the law governing working from home regulations. For this reason, you should ensure you make a good application. You can use the official government application form to help ensure you include all the relevant information.

Please note the legal disclaimer relating to this article.


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