Tuesday 21st May 2024

My boss wants me to return to the office, can I say no? 

Mouthy Money Your Questions Answered panelist, Ian Jones, answers a reader’s question on how to negotiate flexible working if your employer is asking you to come back to the office.  

Q. I moved to remote working during the pandemic, but my boss now wants me to return to the office on a more regular basis. Can she do this? I’ve moved further away from our place of work making commuting very expensive. Can I ask for help paying? What are my rights? 

A. It depends on the terms of the contract and if the contract was changed permanently to allow home working.  

Many employers during the pandemic asked or agreed with employees that they should work from home, but in most cases this was a temporary arrangement.

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If the employer agreed to permanent home-working and there is evidence to support this, the employer will be in breach of contract by insisting that the employee returns to original place of work. 

Some employers have since adopted a hybrid method of working, with home-working for several days each week, as this has proved to be beneficial to both parties.  

After a period of time, the courts may deem that the contract terms have been altered by conduct because the parties have adopted a way of doing something. Whether this applies will depend on the specific facts. 

An employee may have the right to request flexible working which could provide a solution. The law on flexible working changed on 6 April giving employees additional rights, including the right to request flexible working from day one of employment.  

Employers must also consult with the employee before refusing a request and try to find a suitable arrangement. Employers must only refuse requests for flexible working if they have a specified business reason.

This could be the cost, the impact on productivity or quality of your work, that your employees would have to do more work, or that there is no suitable work to be done from home.  

It might be more difficult for your employer to justify their decision if the current arrangement has been working, but not impossible.  

An employee can ask for additional travel expenses if their costs have gone up after moving away from the office, but there isn’t a right to insist. 

It’s in everyone’s interests to resolve the issue amicably. The employee should speak to their boss to find out why a return to the office is important and explain their own situation. It might be possible to reach a compromise, such as splitting their workdays between the office and home, without having to escalate the issue further. 

Ian qualified as a solicitor in 1991. He had experience as a Partner and Head of Employment Law and Litigation with larger firms before setting up Spencer Shaw in 2007. 

Ian has experience in all aspects of employment law and his experience includes taking claims on appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court.

He was a finalist for Partner of the Year at the Birmingham Law Society Awards 2023. The firm is Lexcel accredited by the Law Society and has been shortlisted for awards by Lexis Nexis, Legal Business, Birmingham Law Society, and the Modern Law Awards.

Photo Credits: Pexels

Rebecca Goodman

Award-winning freelance journalist with a decade of experience working for online and print publications in the consumer sector.

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