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June 26, 2024

Legal Issues – Mandatory Office Attendance

Tensions continue with the post pandemic work norms. The government has cemented its commitment to flexible working with changes to the flexible working legislation allowing all staff the right to make a flexible working request on day one of employment.

Other companies are slowly trying to get their workers back to the office. A number of firms have set office attendance targets in order to monitor attendance whilst still demonstrating a commitment to hybrid working.

Law firm Addleshaw Goddard has gone a step further with this. The firm has decided that failing to abide by the three days a week in the office target will receive negative performance reviews. Since these reviews determine bonuses there will also be a potential financial penalty to this.

Similarly, accountancy firm EY has recently started to monitor attendance by reviewing data from the entrance turnstiles in an effort to crack down on breaches of their mandated office attendance requirements.

It is becoming clear that the individual culture of each company is the key factor in the extent to which hybrid working is supported. It is likely that this may lead to an increase in litigation.

One such case is Wilson v FCA. This concerned a senior manager at the FCA who had submitted a flexible working request to permanently work from home. This request came on the back of the FCA implementing a hybrid working policy which required that employees spend a minimum of 3 days a week in the office. She had been working from home since the early days of the pandemic in 2020.

The request was rejected as it was the view of the Respondent that working from home permanently may negatively affect her work and performance. 

The Claimant brought claims to the employment tribunal. She received the decision on her request 21 days after the (then) statutory three-month limit expired and was awarded one week’s pay as compensation for this.

The Claimant’s second claim related to the rejection of her request being made on the basis of incorrect facts. She argued that her performance since 2020 had been very good and the Respondent had tech in place that made remote working efficient. 

The Respondent argued that the Claimant was a senior member of the company and managed a team of people. The Respondent felt that being in person for training and supervision, welcoming new staff members, weekly team meetings, and department days was very important.

The tribunal was persuaded by the arguments of the Respondent. They made mention of the fact that it was clear the Respondent had genuinely considered the request and given detailed reasons as to why it would have a negative impact. The decision maker was praised for their “detailed consideration “and “qualitative assessment”.

For employers this case is good news, but it should not be interpreted as carte blanche to reject requests off hand. The judgment was very specific in saying that each case will turn on its facts. It is interesting that the fact that someone has been working successfully from home for a few years is not necessarily a barrier to denying this kind of request. Though employers must take care to genuinely consider the request and clearly state the reasons for that decision. 

If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.

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EH3 8HA