Can my employer force me to adopt homeworking when I'd rather work in the office?

Any shift to long-term home-working requires proper consultation. For most employees, this is likely to involve a change to a core contract term — work location. Any such change should be by agreement. 

Issues to consider when negotiating over homeworking arrangements include: 

  • Health and safety risk assessments: all employers owe a legal duty to set up a safe system of work, including for home-workers. The law does not prevent an employee carrying out the risk assessment themselves on the employer’s behalf, but the employer retains responsibility. The best solution is likely to be for both parties to participate in the assessment, with a regular checking or review role for the employer. 

  • Adequate IT support and training must be provided. 

  • Proper policies must be developed, in consultation with the recognised union, to support learning, development, appraisal and social support. 

  • The employer must provide or fund any equipment that is reasonably necessary for health and safety. If the employer refuses to pay, think about requesting another safety risk assessment to show why the equipment is needed.  

  • During the pandemic, some employers have provided grants for furniture and equipment and a home working allowance to cover extra costs such as heating and lighting. Your contract may already entitle you to recover the cost of office equipment and utilities when working from home. If not, something will need to be agreed.   

  • Even if your contract says nothing, if your employer requires you to work from home, they have an implied contractual duty to provide or fund the minimum equipment you reasonably need to do your job (such as a laptop, or extra broadband width). Otherwise, the employer is likely to breach the mutual duty of trust and confidence, by expecting you to work without providing the basic means without which you cannot do your job.  

  • If you are disabled, your employer must fund any equipment you need as a reasonable adjustment. There may be funding under the government’s Access to Work scheme for equipment that it is not reasonable to expect your employer to pay for. 

  • Employees who are required to work from home can claim tax relief from HMRC on £6 of expenses a week (worth £1.20 a week for a basic rate tax payer). Higher amounts can be claimed, but only with the supporting paperwork. 

  • -15bb9e8a0b39}{97}" paraid="504406013">Don’t forget to take care of your mental health and well-being. You can take important steps yourself. The mental health charity has some good practical advice on looking after your mental health and wellbeing while working from home. However, your employer also owes a legal duty to take reasonable care of employees’ mental health at work. Good employers will provide a confidential means for anyone working from home to raise mental health concerns without fear of negative come back. Potential concerns might include isolation and loneliness, tiredness, poor supervision, confusing instructions, unclear deadlines and overwork.  

  • Clear rules will be needed on working hours, working time, rest breaks, and contact outside working hours, to ensure staff only work their scheduled working hours and that they take adequate breaks. 

  • Data protection is a key concern. Policies will need updating, and you and your colleagues will need proper training to ensure you don’t accidentally infringe data protection or security policies, risking disciplinary action – for example by emailing work materials to your home email address. The Information Commissioner has a useful guide, Data Protection and working from home — what you need to know, with top tips.  

  • Lastly, privacy is important. Technology enables intrusive electronic monitoring of work activity and productivity, for example remote logging of keystrokes, or websites visited. There needs to be clear understanding and agreement over whether, why, how and when this kind of technology is to be used when the workplace is your home. Unions can help negotiate a suitable policy that helps balance your right to privacy against your employer’s wish to make sure people are getting on with the work allocated to them.  

Requiring you to change your work location from office to home would be a fundamental change to one of your core contract terms. Check those terms carefully, including any mobility clause, and take legal advice before you decide what action to take.  

Even if the change in your work location from external office to home working may amount to a redundancy situation, you risk losing your redundancy payment if the offer of home-working amounts  to suitable alternative employment.  

As with most initiatives, homeworking is best introduced through mutual agreement. Someone forced to work from home is unlikely to be as motivated or productive as someone who does so willingly. 

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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