According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, more than half (52 per cent) of businesses it deals with have a flexible working policy. However, one in five (16 per cent) actually have a strategy in place to make this policy come to life.
It begs the question of why there is such a disparity between the number of businesses supporting flexible working in theory and those that actively implement the practice into their everyday operations.
One answer, as a specialist SME lawyer suggests, could be the grey area in law around employer obligations to the health and wellbeing of their workers.
“A business is required to have a good reason for not agreeing to a flexible working arrangement,” says Mark Gardiner of Teddington Legal.
“If someone has family responsibilities, say a woman is returning to work from maternity leave, or a father from paternity leave – I shouldn’t be sexist about it – or who needs some flexibility around caring for children, an employer ... can refuse the request, but it has to have good reasons for refusing the request.”
According to Mark, working from home presents a unique set of challenges for businesses, given that workplace health and safety laws extend to employees who may be working from their own home.
“So you need to ensure that the person’s work from arrangements are a safe work environment because if someone is injured in their home during work hours while performing work duties, then they can make a worker’s compensation claim,” he says.
Employer rights and responsibilities for home-based workers
Mark says that as a means of ensuring an employee’s home is safe for them to work from, businesses are actually entitled to inspect their employee’s home.
“Certainly some large corporations and some tertiary institutions will actually physically visit the premise and ensure it’s a safe work environment,” explains Mark.
However this tends to be an extreme option exercised by only a few. The more common approach, he says, is a self-assessment process conducted by the employee.
“Most employers, and I’ve just assisted an employer by putting together a checklist that the employee self-assesses and submits the checklist to their manager, establishing that they’re working in a safe work environment,” notes Mark.
“A good example for you: if someone, say, wants to work from home, and they’re a computer worker of some sort, they’re on their computer all day, but all they have is a laptop and a couch, and they’re sitting in a way all day everyday where they’re gonna get some kind of injury – neck injury, iris eye type of injury – then they’re being injured by their employment. So an employer would be liable for that.
Mark adds: “So an employer needs to make sure that if any employee has a requirement or request for working from home, that they have a safe working environment.”
Where does your business stand on flexible working? Are you for or against employees being able to choose where they work from? Have you implemented flexible working strategies into your business? Share your thoughts and experiences below!