As more businesses explore the option of hybrid working models, it is important to plan and manage their implementation carefully.
En-masse hybrid working is a new phenomenon and ‘hybrid’ has no legal meaning in this sense on which employers can rely.
New concepts come with a huge amount of potential but also with the scope for things to backfire.
1. Understand the request of hybrid working
A request for hybrid working can amount to a statutory request for flexible working. This is a right which exists for all employees once they have 26 weeks of continuous service.
It is important that anyone handling hybrid requests can identify this type of statutory request also as failing to handle them properly can give rise to a claim.
Even where the request is made under an informal process, it is important to make sure that all requests are handled in the same way and that managers know how to respond to employees making any hybrid request.
2. Explore the pros and cons of hybrid working
Every business, every team and every individual engaged in hybrid working will be slightly different.
While there are some common benefits and drawbacks across most sectors, it is worth taking the time to explore what you consider to be the most relevant points in your particular business and for individual teams within the business.
Undertaking this exercise will make the decision-making process more effective in the future as discussions can be tailored around overcoming drawbacks if necessary.
3. Avoid potential discrimination when implementing hybrid working
Any policy or procedure which has an element or discretion on behalf of a business runs the risk of eventually being challenged as discriminatory.
In the case of hybrid working requests, it is important to give serious consideration to the reasons it is being requested before rejecting a request, especially where others in the business may already be working on a hybrid pattern.
The most likely claims are going to relate to sex and disability where in either case, the ability to work at least some of the time from home may be of benefit to the individual in respect of caregiving needs or potentially as a reasonable adjustment.
Claims may also arise where a business has certain types of worker who are better placed for hybrid working than others and statistically they are of a different group within a protected characteristic.
These are only likely to be indirect discrimination claims and therefore justifiable but it is important to give due consideration to the issue as part of that defence.
4. Communicate and engage
The easiest way to avoid claims down the line is to ensure that everyone is happy with the arrangement at the point it is agreed. Communicating with staff is the easiest way to find out what they want, what their understanding of a situation is, and whether there might be any issues.
If the business is implementing hybrid working, discuss it with those who will be affected and, to try and tackle some of the potential issues in point 3 above, also talk to those for whom it might not be an option and explain why.
Ongoing reviews as part of a restructured performance management or appraisal process will also be key to the success of hybrid models. This will ultimately fall on management and they need training in how to adapt to managing teams remotely.
5. Have a policy in place
You may, in fact, want two. At very least the careful implementation of hybrid working means that it is important to have a policy in place which deals with the entitlement, the nature of the request, the decision-making process and how any changes to work arrangements will be managed.
This ensures that all requests are handled by management in the same way and reduces the risk of both legal claims and employee discontent if a request is refused.
A separate homeworking policy may also be beneficial as this can set out responsibilities and expectations on the business, on line managers and on individual staff members while working at home. Again, this helps ensure that everyone is aware of what is expected and what should happen when a new arrangement is agreed.
How to avoid claims when implementing hybrid working
Employment Solicitor Chris Dobbs says: "With so many companies considering hybrid working models, there are likely to be future Tribunal claims dealing with the decision to accept or deny a request, the implementation of changes and arising from poor management of staff who are working remotely.
For the last 18 months, many of these arrangements have been implemented on an ad-hoc or informal basis out of necessity but moving forward will need formalising across the business."
If you have any questions following this article, whether its regarding hybrid working claims, policies or any other employment related query, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our bright team.
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