Personal Law

Working from Home After Lockdown: Can I Continue?

Estimated read time: 3 mins

Carrie Tennick, March 12, 2021

Lockdown has brought a huge number of changes to the way we live and work. To stop the coronavirus from spreading, we’ve been unable to meet friends and family, we couldn’t visit non-essential shops and we’ve been encouraged to work from home where possible.

This has been a positive development for many. Across our social media platforms, we’ve seen friends and colleagues celebrating that they’re no longer facing long commutes and that they’re saving money on petrol and train fare.

A study from the University of Southampton found that 73% of workers would prefer working from home some of the time when things return to a more normal state.

But now we’re likely coming to the final stages of lockdown, according to the government’s plan for reopening the country.

Employees who are new to working from home – and preferring it – might be wondering whether they’ll still be able to work from home after lockdown ends.

So do you have the right to work from home following the lifting of restrictions?

More companies allowing working from home

A number of high-profile companies have announced that they would continue working from home in the future. Global organisations have realised that their employees don’t have to be in the office to be productive.

Companies like BP, Facebook and Hitachi have indicated that they would allow working from home for some or all of the time indefinitely, while other big names have said they would let employees work from home until they feel comfortable returning.

The right to request flexible working

All employees are entitled to request flexible working – which includes working from home, as well as other types like compressed hours or flexitime. This is a legal right that applies if you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks. You’re only entitled to make one application per year.

In Northern Ireland, the rules are slightly different. You’ll need to:

  • Be an employee, not an agency worker, or in the armed forces
  • Have worked for your employer for 26 weeks
  • Not have made another flexible working application in the last 12 months

But even if you aren’t employed under those conditions, it could be worth asking your employer in a less formal manner. They may just agree.

Applying to work from home

To apply for flexible working, you’ll need to write to your employer with your request. They will then consider the request and make a decision within three months, or longer if agreed with you. If your employer agrees, they’ll have to change the terms of your contract.

But if they refuse, they’ll have to write to you with their business reasons for their decision. If you don’t think your employer handled your request in a ‘reasonable manner’, you could be able to take your complaint to an employment tribunal.

A ‘reasonable manner’ could include your employer:

  • Carefully weighing up the pros and cons of working from home
  • Meeting with you to discuss your request
  • Offering you an appeals process if your request is denied

It’s important to remember that you can’t take your employer to a tribunal just because they rejected your request. The decision is ultimately theirs to make. They may have concerns that working from home will affect performance, which is a legally valid reason to reject a request.

But you can go to a tribunal if your employer:

  • Didn’t respond to your request in a ‘reasonable manner’
  • Incorrectly treated your request as withdrawn
  • Rejected the request based on incorrect information
  • Terminated your employment or treated you unfairly because of your request

If you’re not sure what your rights are around this issue, you could consider taking legal advice. Our expert employment law solicitors will be able to help with your statutory and contractual rights, helping you realise what you’re entitled to.

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