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News » UK employers face legal battle as flexible work rights expand

UK employers face legal battle as flexible work rights expand

Flexible work lowers heart risk – Harvard study

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — United Kingdom employers pushing back against remote work are facing a potential wave of employment tribunal cases as staff resist the rollback of flexible arrangements enjoyed during the pandemic. 

The UK has officially expanded its laws on flexible work, allowing employees to request flexible working arrangements such as remote work or modified hours from their first day on the job. 

This significant amendment to the Employment Rights (Flexible Working) Bill removes the previous requirement for workers to be employed for six months before making such requests. Now, employees can make two requests per year, and they are no longer required to explain how their requested accommodations might affect the business.

Recent ruling favors employer’s rejection of full-time remote work

Some employers feel encouraged by a recent employment tribunal ruling that sided with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in rejecting a senior manager’s request to work from home full-time. 

The judge ruled the FCA was justified in denying Elizabeth Wilson’s claim, citing “weaknesses with remote working.”

“The FCA case was not binding but employers have felt it is an important case to consider,” Richard Fox, a partner at Keystone Law, told The Guardian.

“The issue is becoming a battleground and we advise employers to play it very carefully.”

Rising tensions surrounding remote work requests

Data from HR consultancy Hamilton Nash shows a 50% increase in employment tribunal cases mentioning remote working in 2022 compared to 27 cases in 2021. Jim Moore, an employee relations expert at the firm, expects more cases this year.

“I would expect more tribunal cases on working from home,” said Moore.

“We’re seeing significant tensions between flexible working requests from people keen to secure their hybrid arrangements and employers pushing people back into the office.”

Several major companies, including Boots and U.S. banks like Goldman Sachs, are advocating a full return to office-based work. A KPMG survey of over 1,300 CEOs worldwide revealed that 64% expect employees back full-time by 2026.

Gemma Dale, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, noted the fragility of flexible work progress. “The Homes Under the Hammer fallacy that everyone who is working from home is watching TV is still strong in some organisations,” she said.

Monitoring and enforcement of office attendance

Raoul Parekh, a partner at GQ Littler, said companies are increasingly using entry-gate data to monitor staff attendance. 

“What [we] would expect now around the corner is the next phase of enforcement and disciplinary action. That has not happened yet,” he said.

A ResumeBuilder survey found that 80% of companies plan to track employee office attendance in 2024.

Badge swipes are the most common tracking method used by 62% of organizations surveyed. Other popular tracking methods include manual checks, Wi-Fi network monitoring, occupancy sensors, and under-desk sensors.

Moreover, one in three companies will terminate non-compliant employees. Additional potential consequences include reductions in bonuses, benefits, and salaries.

While some employers believe the new legislation will create administrative and legal challenges, advocates argue that flexible work boosts employee satisfaction, retention, and access to talent—especially for those with caring responsibilities or health conditions.

“There is good evidence that flexible working practices can help recruit and retain staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities, older workers, and those with health conditions,” Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the professional group Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, told Fortune.

Nick Bloom, an economist and Stanford University professor known for his research on working from home, has declared that “the RTO (return to office) debate should end.” He predicts that current rates of remote and hybrid work will remain consistent over the next five years.

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