UK businesses are increasingly embracing remote and flexible working arrangements. While this transition can boost productivity and employee satisfaction, employers and human resources professionals also have to navigate these changes with a keen understanding of the legal framework, especially in relation to issues such as discrimination and unfair dismissal.

This article aims to guide you through managing remote and flexible working in your business from an employment law perspective. It focuses on current relevant laws, and in particular on the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) and the Equality Act 2010.

Understanding Your Obligations

As an employer, you’re bound by the ERA 1996 (and updates), which outlines the rights of your employees and your duties towards them. When it comes to remote and flexible working:

  • Requests for flexible working:
    • Before April 2024, employees with at least 26 weeks of continuous service have the right to request flexible working arrangements which employers have to handle in a ‘reasonable manner’.
  • However, from 6 April 2024, employees can ask for flexible working arrangements, without having to justify their request or suggest how it might affect your business. They can also ask for flexible working twice a year, not just once and you’ll need to reply to these requests within two months instead of three.

Health and safety:

  • For employees working remotely – usually from their homes – you still have a duty of care to uphold and are responsible for their health and safety. That means you have to make sure that your remote working employees have the right equipment and environment for safe and effective working.
  • Data protection:
    • With remote work, data security becomes even more critical. Ensure that your employees understand how to handle sensitive information and maintain the integrity and confidentiality of data in line with data protection laws.

Promoting equality and preventing discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 is another key piece of legislation for employers to adhere to. This Act protects employees from discrimination in the workplace and promotes equality. When you’re managing remote and flexible working, consider the following:

  • Equal opportunities:
    • Ensure all employees, regardless of their remote or flexible working arrangements, have the same access to opportunities for training, promotions, and career development.
  • Reasonable adjustments:
    • The Act requires you to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities. This might include providing special equipment or software for remote working or adapting communication methods to ensure inclusivity.
  • Avoiding indirect discrimination:
    • Be cautious of policies that apply to all employees but might disadvantage a particular group. For example, if you require all remote workers to attend in-person meetings without considering individual circumstances, this might discriminate against employees with care-giving responsibilities or disabilities.

Communicating and documenting

Clear communication and proper documentation are vital in managing remote and flexible working arrangements. Ensure that:

  • Policies are clear:
    • Your remote and flexible working policies should be transparent and easily accessible. This helps in setting the right expectations and provides a reference point for both you and your employees.
  • Agreements are documented:
    • Any agreed-upon flexible working arrangements should be documented. This includes the details of the working hours, location, and how communication and performance will be managed.
  • Regular reviews:
    • Regularly review and, if necessary, update your remote and flexible working policies to ensure they remain effective and compliant with current laws.

Remember, a proactive approach to managing remote and flexible working can not only help in compliance but also foster a positive and productive work culture, while carefully navigating employment law issues such as discrimination and unfair dismissal..