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With hybrid and flexible working fast becoming standard practice for many businesses and their employees, it is important that employers fully understand and effectively implement appropriate changes to employee contracts and workplace policies.

In this blog, David McBride, Head of Employment at Bray & Bray, describes working models in the post-pandemic workplace and provides advice on implementing contractual changes and creating and amending policies.

Research from the CIPD shows that employers expect that the proportion of people working from home on a regular basis once the pandemic is over will increase to 37% compared to 18% before the pandemic. As well as providing a recruitment and retention advantage, flexible or hybrid working arrangements can, in many cases, help businesses to reduce costs and work more efficiently.

There are many ways of working, but here are some of the practices that are becoming more commonplace as we emerge out of the pandemic:

  • Flexible working – describes a type of working arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work. Flexible working practices can include part-time working, term-time working, job-sharing, flexitime, compressed hours, annual hours and zero-hours contracts.
  • Hybrid working – describes a type of flexible working model which allows employees to work from a variety of different locations, at the employees’ will or based on parameters set by the employer.
  • Agile working – describes the ability to work in the place and at the time most appropriate for the task in hand.

The right to request flexible working

In the UK, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers. This is known as making a statutory application, and employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible. Employers must handle all requests in a reasonable manner, which may include assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application, holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee, and offering an appeal process.

An alternative option is to allow employees to apply for flexible or hybrid working on a discretionary basis, without the need for a formal statutory request to be made.

Contractual changes to consider

When adopting a flexible or hybrid working model, there are several key clauses to consider to which changes can be made. These include:

  • Place of work – as well as specifying the location where your employees will work, this clause can include business requirements for flexible and hybrid workers, such as compulsory attendance at meetings. It can also include restrictions on geographical area for remote workers to allow for travel to the company’s premises when required.
  • Working time – within this clause, employers can set boundaries for employees on working hours whilst working remotely or at home, set a core hours model or enforce obligations on employees to take rest breaks, for example.
  • Salary and benefits – the shift to homeworking is likely to have an impact on the provision of location-based salaries. Employers may choose to re-evaluate the salaries of workers who are no longer required to live in London to do their job, for example, but should be wary of discrimination claims. Employees working from home should, where possible and appropriate, have access to the same benefits as those working in the office, as well as the same or equal training and personal development opportunities.
  • Expenses – this clause should outline the costs an employee working from home is able to claim. This may cover the cost of utilities, insurance to cover work equipment and travelling to the office from home.
  • Confidentiality and data protection – employers may use these clauses to set out guidance on what is considered to be confidential information, and the precautions employees should take to keep a confidential data secure. This may include, for example, prohibiting the printing out of confidential information or an obligation to wear a headset when speaking on the phone.
  • Employee monitoring – this clause deals with a company’s ability to monitor employees’ use of the employer’s telecommunications or computer systems. A survey conducted by YouGov identified that 20% of employers have introduced, or plan to introduce, software to monitor employees working from home. Before taking the decision to monitor employees’ activity, employers should carry out a privacy impact assessment and consider whether the change will affect employee trust and confidence, as well as look at limiting the amount of personal data collected and restricting who has access to any data.

Before making changes to employee contracts, employers should check if the current contract has a flexibility clause which allows them to vary its terms. If not, employers must consult their employees and obtain their agreement to the changes. Employers should also check if contracts provide the option to use trial periods to test out any changes, as well as the right to revert or terminate the arrangement based on the needs of the business, a change in job role or performance concerns.

Implementing effective policies

For a new or amended policy to be effective, it is important that it is implemented and championed by a senior individual who has overall responsibility for communicating the change to employees and ensuring it is fully understood. This extends to the training of managers or of employees themselves, particularly new starters who may require supervision.

Employers have a duty to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their employees. This blog highlights the key considerations for employers to make the transition back to the workplace as safe and smooth as possible for both their staff and their business.

Chat to our team

Bray & Bray’s employment team can provide specialist advice on making changes to employee contracts and policies in the post-pandemic workplace.

Our employment lawyers are based at each of our four offices in Leicestershire. Contact us by calling or clicking on the link below, or pop into one of our offices.

Leicester: call us on 0116 254 8871.

Hinckley: call us on 01455 639 900.

Market Harborough: call us on 01858 467 181.

Corby: call us on 01536 851050.