Should Working from Home Become a Legal Right?

The pandemic has forced a cultural shift in work practices and attitudes that has changed the business terrain for the better for many employees, although there continues to be debate and polarising opinions on the subject throughout different cross sections of society.

As we saw in what was dubbed the recent war on working from home, the topic became weaponised and used for political point scoring. It met a lot of resistance in the UK from certain business leaders and also sections of the UK government. Boris Johnson famously described it as ‘manaña culture’ which eroded productivity and Jacob Rees-Mogg said he was ‘suspicious about the desire to work from home on Mondays and Fridays’. Not to mention Lord Sugar’s Victorian comments about those who work from home being ‘entitled’ and ‘lazy’.

Such draconian attitudes are baffling, particularly when the most senior government official in the land, the Prime Minister, has always worked from home at number 10 Downing Street. Perhaps it can be better understood in the context of the vested interests in play, such as for example, investments in London’s commercial buildings or individuals with a particular type of old-fashioned leadership style (think Lumbergh from the film Office Space, if you don’t know the film you’ll certainly recognize the meme).

Despite the noise, multiple surveys have found improvements in staff mental health, productivity and happiness due to the move to more flexible working arrangements.

CEO Chris Herd, who is a passionate advocate for remote work, broke down the impact that working from home can have, particularly for those with families:

“Office work: waste 90% of your day getting ready for, travelling to, or sitting in an office. Leave before your kids wake up, get home as they’re going to bed. No time for your friends, families or hobbies because you’re exhausted. Remote work: none of that.”

At the moment, employers are not really in a position to be complacent when it comes to offering flexibility to their employees. For one thing there are currently more job vacancies than people who can fill them, so companies who order staff to go into the office may find themselves spawning an exodus to a more enlightened employer. There have even been company executives boasting on Linkedin that every time a competitor forces employees to come into the office, they get their recruiters to reach out to the staff in question and end up picking up their competitors’ key talent.

Showing a lack of basic empathy for your workers by forcing them to come into the office, when fuel costs and energy costs have gone up more than 54% in the UK is incredibly selfish. Being able to work from home is becoming more of an economic necessity for the population with so many people feeling the squeeze from inflation and rising food, fuel and energy costs.

With the weather in the UK now hitting an unprecedented 40 degrees celsius people have been advised to only travel where it is absolutely necessary. Even those who did travel into work, especially those in cities such as London, faced the aggravating news that trains had been cancelled for their commute home – leaving many stranded and having to pay for taxis or arrange partners to pick them up. If people can do their jobs from home, just like they did in the pandemic, then it is nonsensical to force them to travel into an office when the experience of commuting is going to be even longer, more painful and potentially even health threatening.

The Netherlands appear to be ahead of the curve when it comes to attitudes on working from home. Their government just passed legislation compelling employers by law to allow employees to work from home (if it is possible in their profession). This motion has yet to be ratified and will need to be approved by the Dutch Senate before it is written into law. However, it represents a huge step forward for employees and sets a precedent for The Netherlands to become the first European country to make this a legal right.

Many experts believe that other European countries could follow suit soon. For example, in Portugal progressive legislation was recently passed to protect employees from being contacted by their bosses out of work hours and on the weekend. The Spanish government also recently legislated that women should be allowed time off for menstrual pain. With these kinds of laws being passed, it is not difficult to see the potential for working from home becoming law in other European countries very soon.

In the UK, the current conservative government pledged to consult on making working from home an employer’s default position as part of their 2019 manifesto, but then the pandemic struck. As has been widely reported, a lot of conservative MPs were pretty busy during that period having their cake and eating it, so to speak, during illegal social events.

Since then, earlier this year, a review into the Future Of Work was promised, although HR professionals are not confident that it will have any significant impact for workers. With Boris Johnson now on the way out of government and the Tory Leadership race due to be decided in September, we could yet see more developments that will impact flexible working.

Rishi Sunak is widely touted as the front runner for the role of PM, but whoever wins the race has a big task on their hands to tackle the highest inflation for 40 years and a crippling cost of living crisis which is due to get worse as winter approaches.

The new leader may seek to distance themselves from attitudes expressed by Boris Johnson and his supporters like Rees-Mogg, which could be good news for greater employee flexibility, as the new leader seeks to win back the support of the populace after the PR disaster of Boris Johnson’s government.

Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that greater empathy for the position of working people will be needed as well as legislative action to match.

Written by: Tom Gibby – The Bot Platform