As companies increasingly clamp down on working from home, experts anticipate a rise in employment tribunal cases.

The rollback of the flexible working arrangements, widely adopted during the Covid crisis, is leading to growing resentment among staff.

A notable shift is occurring as several companies push for a full return to the office. For instance, administrative staff at Boots, who previously worked three days a week from the office, will transition to a five-day in-office schedule starting September.

Similarly, major US banks like Goldman Sachs expect senior staff to work from the office full-time, with CEO David Solomon dismissing remote working as an “aberration.”

The tightening stance on remote work has been bolstered by a recent employment tribunal ruling. Earlier this year, a senior manager’s case against the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) was dismissed. The manager, Elizabeth Wilson, sought to work from home full-time, but employment judge Robert Richter ruled that the FCA was within its rights to deny her request. Richter noted “weaknesses with remote working” and predicted that this issue would continue to fuel litigation.

A bigger surge is expected

Richard Fox, a partner at Keystone Law, highlighted the significance of the FCA case, despite it not being legally binding. “The FCA case was not binding but employers have felt it is an important case to consider,” he stated. “The issue is becoming a battleground and we advise employers to play it very carefully.”

HR consultancy Hamilton Nash forecasts a surge in employment tribunals concerning remote working. Their analysis reveals a steady increase in such cases: from six in 2019 to 16 in 2020, and up to 42 in 2022. In the first half of 2023 alone, there were 23 cases.

“I would expect more tribunal cases on working from home,” commented Jim Moore, an employee relations expert at Hamilton Nash. “We’re seeing significant tensions between flexible working requests from people keen to secure their hybrid arrangements and employers pushing people back into the office.”

Gemma Dale, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, noted that the FCA case is one of the few since the pandemic, with limited case law available on this matter. She emphasised that some business leaders advocate for a return to the office based on personal views rather than data or academic studies.

A KPMG survey from last October found that 63 percent of UK business leaders anticipated a full return to office-based work by 2026. Additionally, Raoul Parekh, a partner at GQ Littler, observed that companies are increasingly using entry-gate data to monitor staff attendance, hinting at potential future enforcement and disciplinary actions.

Efforts to entice employees back to the office have included incentives such as free food, as seen with Lloyds Banking Group, which asked staff to return for two days a week. Sharon Doherty, Lloyds’ chief people and places officer, mentioned that the new policy aims to support their strategic transformation plan by offering enhanced flexible working options.

The ongoing tension between employer mandates and employee preferences is expected to lead to more legal challenges as the landscape of work continues to evolve.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.