The rise of the Covid-19 pandemic and Government restrictions forced the majority of us to work from home for over a year, for the first time in our academic and professional lives. For many of us who have started working in the past year, we have never, nor will we ever experience the traditional office working hours. The 18th of March, marking the beginning of work-from-home culture, ultimately gave rise to the end of the 5-day office-static workplace.
The end of lockdown and returning to ‘normal’ has as a result left many of us feeling forced into a lifestyle no longer fitting. So, how can junior workers return to the workplace, but with flexibility, and on their own terms? It is crucial to know your legal and contractual rights when asked to return to the workplace.
- Can your employer force you to return to the workplace?
Your employer has a right to make you return to work if your contract specifies that you would be working in the office. This means that you have to comply with any ‘reasonable management requests’ from your employer. Arguably, therefore, you could start by having a conversation with your employer about implementing a hybrid working model, or even a full-time work from home position, on the basis that this would be a reasonable working position for your role. You may also consider making a flexible working request. This is a legal right that all employees own, which will allow you to work flexibly to fit your needs.
In order to apply for flexible working, you can follow these basic steps. Firstly, write to your employer requesting flexible working. Your employer will then have to review your request and make a decision within three months. If your employer agrees to the request, they must then change the terms and conditions in your contract. However, if the employer disagrees, they must provide you with business reasons as to why your request was denies. Depending on this, you may be able to raise a complaint at an employment tribunal if you are still dissatisfied.
- What if you are not satisfied with the health and safety measures in the workplace?
You may be able to use your legal and contractual rights if you do not believe your workplace provides adequate health and safety measures, particularly with the continuous threat of Covid-19. Your employer has a duty under the law, as well as in your contract, to provide a safe workspace. The current Government guidance requires employers to complete Covid-19 risk assessments and take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in the workplace. If you believe they are not following such steps, you may initially wish to discuss this with your employer to come up with a better suited situation for you. However, if the issue is not resolved, you could report this to your Health and Safety Executive.
- Can your employer cut your pay if you start working from home?
Simply put, your employer can indeed change your salary if you move to a full-time remote position, only if the contract allows them to do so, or if you have agreed to this with your employer. However, if your employer attempts to change your salary without your, or your contract permitting this, this will be a breach of contract. In this case, rest assured that you can rely on your legal rights. You may be able to make a claim for unlawful deductions from wages. If you resign in accordance with this deduction, you may also be able to bring a claim for constructive dismissal.
Understanding your legal and contractual employment rights are crucial to giving junior workers the ability to work flexibly on their own terms. By following the advice and steps laid out above, this will be the key to employers adopting a more flexible and agile workplace moving forward, thereby also retaining a pool of increasingly versatile and resilient junior talent.