What employment laws apply to remote employees?

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Remote working what's the law

Remote workers have the same employment rights as colleagues.

What employment laws apply to remote employees?

In all the hype around remote and hybrid working in recent years, it’s easy to forget that remote employees and workers still have the same employment rights as they would if they were physically in the workplace. There are practical differences in how those rights apply, and how to enforce employees’ obligations, which we’ll outline below.

What is remote working?

Remote working is any working arrangement that isn’t “traditional” full time office working.

The term can mean entirely remote, or it could encompass a hybrid arrangement, where the employee works partly in the workplace and partly at home.  It could also mean an arrangement where the employee works from anywhere at all that isn’t their employer’s business premises.  So-called “digital nomads” for instance are the most remote of workers.

What employment rights do remote employees have?

Employees have certain rights regardless of their place of work.

For instance, employees are entitled to written terms and conditions, statutory minimum notice periods, maternity/paternity/adoption leave and pay, sick pay, paid holiday, and so on.  Employees are also entitled not to be unfairly dismissed if they have more than 2 years’ employment. If made redundant after 2 years’ employment, employees are entitled to statutory redundancy pay.

Employers have obligations to look after employees’ health and safety.  Part of this is to conduct workstation checks to ensure that employees’ desks are set up safely and comfortably.  Remote employees are entitled to this protection too. This means employers must find a way to conduct workstation assessments remotely. Employers should also consider providing equipment to ensure that employees can work safely at home, including desks, chairs, and appropriate IT equipment and peripherals.

It’s always important to ensure that contracts of employment reflect the reality of working arrangements, and this is especially so with remote or hybrid employees. Clear policies should be introduced covering remote or hybrid working arrangements. Policies should set out how performance and achievements will be monitored, and deal with communications between employees and line management, including what is and is not acceptable/appropriate for the business. If monitoring software is to be used, this must be notified to employees.

Remote working and performance management

Performance appraisals should be conducted for all staff anyway, and remote employees are no exception. Appraisals will flag up issues, but are also a tool to motivate, set out a career path and record achievements.  They should be used in salary reviews to ensure consistency of approach across teams and the wider business.

Employers should ensure that they create a consistent and measurable approach for monitoring performance of all staff, wherever they work. This will differ for each business. The process needs to ensure that one group of employees isn’t favoured over another – the obvious example of this being the concern that office-based employees are assumed to be “better” just because they are visible in the office.

Woman at work

Does performance dip for remote workers?

Does remote working really work?

Ah, the eternal question: is remote working effective?  There’s been plenty of commentary on this in recent years. Remote and hybrid working has exploded in popularity since Covid, but is it objectively a Good Thing?

There’s no simple answer – with so many variables, it’s hard to give a definitive yes or no.  Many people find remote working works for them as it offers more flexibility, autonomy, and time for peaceful concentration, whilst reducing time lost to commuting. Others prefer the hustle and bustle of the office, with the opportunities to spend time chatting and catching up with colleagues, as well as arguably more easily access learning by osmosis, which is especially important when you’re just starting out.

Perhaps it’s that remote works better for older, more senior workers, with established networks of social and work contacts, who find it easier to juggle work and family commitments by working remotely.  Younger, less experienced workers, living in house shares, with active social lives, and at the stage of building their networks and reputations, may value being seen at the office and learning from their leaders.

I remember learning from listening to experienced lawyers – how they spoke to different people on the phone, how they dealt with managing other staff, how they asked people to carry out tasks for them.  Whether this type of learning can be duplicated online is an important factor.

Does remote working improve productivity?

Possibly.  Again, it will depend on the person, their role, the nature of the workplace, and the sort of tasks they need to carry out.

There is research here and here that suggests that background noise levels in open plan offices can be distracting to the extent that they damage productivity, as well as causing increased stress levels, high blood pressure and increased instances of migraines. That doesn’t sound like an environment that will support high productivity levels.

So, if background noise is distracting and damaging, it could be said to follow that working in the peace and quiet of your own home, or on a balcony on Costa del Digital Nomad, where you can better control the distractions and interruptions, is better for your health as well as your productivity.

Remote working and employee engagement

Happy workers are more productive and that’s better for the business, whatever part they play within in. If workers are made happier by having a remote or flexible working arrangement, that’s going to be better for the business.

There’s also a lot of commentary around the idea that employers that offer flex around working arrangements are able to attract a wider range of candidates.  This helps diversity and ESG stats.

On a more day to day level, improved employee engagement increases retention levels. That means staff stay longer, increasing inherent institutional knowledge and reducing recruitment and onboarding costs.

How can you improve remote working?

As with many things in employment, preparation is key.  Think about what sort of remote working arrangement the business wants to have, whether it will be offered to all, or to only certain roles, or whether the employer will require employees to work remotely.

Consider the extent to which the business could help employees set up a home working arrangement, in terms of advice about checking the they are allowed to work from home, ensuring they have adequate IT, including home broadband, and ensuring confidentiality (especially if they live in a house share). Consider whether you want to have regular in person meetings, or whether certain matters will require in person attendance.

There is useful guidance in the Acas guide to working from home and hybrid working.

Employment law solicitors

If you need help with remote or hybrid working arrangements do just get in touch with us at employment@qlaw.co.uk .

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