Labour demands clarity on plans to make working from home a ‘default right’

Downing Street confirms report from leaked document but says there would be no legal right to work from home

Downing Street has confirmed the government is considering legislating to make working from home the “default” option by giving employees the right to request it.

Responding to reports that ministers could change the law, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said a flexible working taskforce was examining how best to proceed.

“What we’re consulting on is making flexible working a default option unless there are good reasons not to,” they said. That would mirror the approach to other forms of flexible working, such as part-time hours.

However, they emphasised there would be no legal right to work from home, adding that the prime minister still believed there were benefits to being in the office, including collaboration with colleagues.

Business lobby groups have said many of their members are considering keeping flexible and hybrid approaches adopted during the pandemic. Sixty three per cent of members of the Institute of Directors said they intended to shift to working from home for office-based workers for between one and four days a week.

However, the Confederation of British Industry, another lobby group, said it opposed giving workers an automatic right to work from home. “The default must remain that businesses control where work is done. While they will need to talk with workers about this, accommodate flexibility where they can and explain these decisions, it can’t be unduly onerous to do so,” said Matthew Percival, the CBI’s director of people and skills. “That’s why a ‘right to request’ approach is the right one.”

The pandemic has ushered in drastically different working arrangements for many office workers, but the plan to legislate to support working from home had already been mooted in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto.

Labour called on the government to clarify its position. Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, criticised the lack of clarity on plans for office-based workers, and called for stronger rights for staff “so that workers are not pressured or blackmailed back into unsafe workplaces”.

The government’s roadmap for unlocking the UK economy had initially suggested all restrictions would be removed in England from Monday, 21 June. However, that has been extended until at least 19 July to give more time to vaccinate people.

Ministers have been advised that removal of all restrictions on workplaces could be risky, according to a document first reported by Politico. Instead, the government is thought to be considering advice for a hybrid approach, blending continued home working with some time in the office when necessary.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

“Throughout this crisis this government has failed working people time and time again, from refusing to classify Covid as a serious workplace risk to failing to crack down on unsafe workplaces and rogue employers who have put their staff at risk,” Rayner said.
“As we emerge from this crisis, we cannot have one-sided flexibility that allows employers to dictate terms to their workers when it comes to flexible working arrangements.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which represents human resources professionals, has called for a change in the law to allow employees to request flexible working from the day they start.

Contributors

Heather Stewart and Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Number working from home in UK rises after government U-turn
Data shows the number of people working exclusively from home rose from 21% to 24%

Larry Elliott Economics editor

01, Oct, 2020 @4:07 PM

Article image
Working from home is proving to be a revolution in our way of life | Larry Elliott
The repercussions are everywhere, from reduced retail footfall to losses at train companies

Larry Elliott Economics editor

26, Oct, 2020 @7:23 PM

Article image
Covid-19 has changed working patterns for good, UK survey finds
Few staff say they intend to return to their offices five days a week

Joanna Partridge

05, Oct, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Revealed: rise in stress among those working from home
New research finds that those living and working alone during the pandemic have suffered the worst effects of all

Michael Savage

04, Jul, 2021 @5:45 AM

Article image
I’m being asked to go back to the office, what are my rights in the UK?
The things you can and can’t ask for if your boss says your days of homeworking are over

Zoe Wood

20, Aug, 2021 @1:40 PM

Article image
PwC's UK staff to split office and homeworking after Covid crisis
Flexible return will allow staff to personalise working day and finish early on Fridays in July and August

Kalyeena Makortoff

31, Mar, 2021 @1:46 PM

Article image
How the pandemic transformed the world of work in 2021
There were winners and losers as work patterns continued changing, with repercussions for city centres and society as a whole

Joanna Partridge

30, Dec, 2021 @2:04 PM

Article image
Office politics: firms still grappling with home working puzzle
Whether seen as an obstacle to overcome or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, home working is proving hard to avoid

Jasper Jolly

20, Aug, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
‘Idea of commuting fills me with dread’: workers on returning to the office
Staff warily contemplate going back to work as business leaders say it is vital to boost urban economy

Jedidajah Otte

05, Jul, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
'My company has gone fully remote and I'm despairing': who wins in the new world of working from home?
As we move away from the traditional 9 to 5, the boundaries between office and home are increasingly blurred. Meet the bosses trying to get it right

Rebecca Seal

12, Sep, 2020 @8:00 AM