An anonymous senior minister has said that civil servants who refuse to return to the office should have their wages cut.
The minister in question claimed it is unfair that those working from home should receive the same benefits as those who commute.
The question is a pressing one.
In a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), data showed 25.9% – or 8.4 million people – were completing duties from their home at some point during 2020.
Despite the move back to office working, a high number of people will continue to function remotely. A hybrid model is on the rise. The pandemic changed the way we work and live with many discerning the true cost of living and commuting in corporate hubs.
But does an employer have the right to cut your wages if you choose to work from home long term?
HR specialist Donna Obstfeld says it is situational.
‘It depends on whether or not there are any provisions in the contract of employment or trade union agreements,’ she tells Metro.co.uk
‘However as a whole, generally, employers cannot just cut someone’s salary because of working from home.
‘Whether someone lives five minutes from the office or two hours from the office does not get taken into consideration when making a job offer, and therefore following the same concept, someone is paid for the job they do, not for where they work or live.’
If employers were to change the terms of contract, Donna explains they would be diving into a sea of legal issues.
‘It would go through a legal process,’ she says. ‘The original contract would have to be terminated and a company needs proper grounds to do that. Meanwhile, it’s a nightmare for them because they need to do it for everyone, otherwise they are at risk of discrimination.’
Nicola Callaghan, Managing Director at HR Caddy, notes that some employers can reduce the pay of employees if a mutual agreement is reached.
‘It should be done via a process of negotiation and will require agreement between both parties,’ she explains. ‘In the UK there are very specific rules about equal work and equal pay if two employees are doing like for like work and have similar productivity and responsibilities.
‘So in a case where one works from home and is paid less, then serious questions will be asked and will likely lead to potential legal claims.’
Nicola emphasises that deciding to reduce pay for flexible working is a risky approach for an employer to take as several other routes could achieve the same efficiencies.
‘If a business needs to reduce its costs, including staffing costs, this should be done in a more structured way and follow a process, just as most businesses would do in every other event,’ she advises.
‘Processes are intended to protect businesses and workers and ensure that discussions like this take place in a fair and consistent manner, and the reasons for the changes are based on sound business reasons.
‘Stating that a home worker is less valuable as an employee than their counterpart coming into an office is quite a high-risk approach in my opinion. Any employers thinking of implementing a similar approach to save costs should ask themselves – is it immediately clear what the drivers for the salary reductions are? And is there an acceptance that they are doing a different job from home?’
She continues: ‘If this is a route employers are considering we would advise that they evidence the differences by outlining a number of higher responsibility/higher value duties that are being undertaken by the office workers, that can only be completed in the office.
‘This may then support a sound argument to consider these changes, but this still needs to be approached very cautiously.’
If you wish to work from home long term, are there specific steps to take when arranging with management?
Donna says that most companies will have a flexible working policy and this should be utilised at negotiation stage.
‘Originally these policies were only for certain workers,’ she explains. ‘But that has become broader in the majority. If one is in place, after 26 weeks you are allowed to apply for flexible working and that’s the first mechanism you should use when looking for permanent change.
‘There are lots of different combinations that come under flexible working now also so it can be fleshed out between both parties to see what works best.’
Meanwhile, just because you wish to work from home doesn’t mean it will be permitted. Donna notes that the current law states employees have to right to request flexible working but a company doesn’t have to grant it.
And if the office returns and you decide to work remotely without permission, you are at risk of termination. Yet, there are exceptions, especially during a pandemic.
‘If your contract says that you will work in a specific place, and that’s where you’re contracted to, anything that you refuse to do would potentially be putting you in breach of contract,’ she says.
‘Now, the exception to that would be if you believe that there is an imminent danger to your health and safety.
‘If you truly believe that there is an immediate danger to your health and safety or there are practices putting you at risk, you have grounds.
‘And before an employer decides to fire somebody because they refused to come into the office, management needs to make sure that they are following all Covid safety guidelines.’
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