The UK 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 stressed 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.
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 MP, 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.
According to reports, the government is considering proposals that would change the law so that employers would have to prove it is essential before being able to insist employees attend the workplace.