Katie Ash: Can a flexible-working request be reversed?

flexible workingFor many, the Covid-19 crisis is starting to feel like a distant memory. However, there are still changes to the way we live and work today that were influenced by the restrictions that were put in place. The biggest example in employment law is the shift to working from home.

Employers may be considering what changes need to be put in place to best support their staff with their mental health, including a review of flexible-working policies and arrangements.

It is important to establish where the employee’s place of work is. If the employment contract stipulates the employee’s home address, then the employer has no right to ask them to work from the office. They can only do so if the employee agrees or if they take steps to enforce the change with a variation of the contract. If the employee is struggling, they might be more than happy to agree to come back into the office on a full or part-time basis, but if they are reluctant, then the employer’s immediate options are likely to be limited.

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But what if the employee is asking to come back to the office? In that case, a reasonable employer should try to work with their employees. If they can be accommodated in the workplace, then they should be. If the employee made a flexible-working application to work from home but now wants to change their place of work, then they could potentially be asked to complete another flexible-working application, but any change to the place of work should be recorded in the contract of employment.

If it is not possible to accommodate the employee’s request, the employer could think about other ways to support the employee, such as more in-person supervision or catch-up meetings, a regular team lunch or more frequent telephone or video calls.

Acting unreasonably regardless of what the contract says may harm employee relations and could lead to grievances, resignations and potentially employment tribunal claims for unfair constructive dismissal, which could prove costly.

Dealing with reverse flexible-working applications could prove challenging for organisations which have reduced their office space or got rid of it altogether, but employers must follow the statutory procedure if a flexible-working application is made and should always act reasonably.

Ultimately, the outcome of a request to reverse a flexible-working arrangement will depend on the specific circumstances of the employer and the employee, but it is important to ensure that no decision prejudices the individual unfairly or unnecessarily. As with any contractual change, the best course of action is to get legal advice to find a resolution that works for all.

Katie Ash is head of employment law at Banner Jones Solicitors