Smart working in the UK

Video | May 2017 | 7:25

Video Details

Smart working in the UK

Q: Hello, my name is Nick Howard. I am a senior lawyer in the Norton Rose Fulbright Employment and Labor Group. This is the first instalment in our series of videos regarding SMART working in Europe. I am pleased to say that we are joined today by Catrina Smith, a partner in our London office to look at smart working in  the UK.

Q: Catrina, what kinds of SMART alternatives to full time employment exist in the UK?

C: Historically the UK has been quite keen at looking at different ways of working. So we have had for a number of years different ways of working such as flexible working, part time working, working from home and more recently zero hours contracts. It is actually something we have embraced quite wholeheartedly here. It is the kind of arrangement brought in to deal with an economic crisis, or a response to new technology and also the desire for people to work in a different way than maybe their parents or grandparents did and if the rights and responsibilities of both parties are balanced and working well then it can be a “win-win” situation for both sides.

Q: Why don’t we take each of those in turn. Firstly, how would you describe part-time working and the rights of part time workers?

C: Part time working is very popular here, about 25 per cent of all people who work in the UK work on a part time basis.

Historically there had been an issue that part time workers were seen to have a raw deal when it came to their full time contemporaries. However, since 2000 part timers workers have been able to claim equal treatment effectively with their full time counterparts. So now employers can’t treat employees less favorably on the basis of their part-time status unless that treatment is objectively justified. This means there has to be a good business reason for it and it has to be a  proportionate way of achieving that good business reason. This means that there is parity in terms of the hours of work or the rate of pay they are paid when they are actually working. Less favorable treatment can either be in relation to the terms and conditions or in relation to being subjected to a detriment or some other unfavorable treatment because of their part time status. An example would be if an employer decided on a redundancy round to make all the part timers redundant rather than full timers.

Q: Moving on to flexible working now, how would you describe this and what rights do flexible workers have?

C: Flexible working is increasingly popular often in respect to response to ways in which employees want to work, for example to take care of family responsibilities or in order to avoid long commutes. So employees have got the right to request for flexible working once they have worked somewhere for at least 26 weeks' and they can do that for any reason. They can request flexibility both in terms of hours, the place of work or the time of work.

They just have to make a written request to the employer. The employer has three months within which to respond. The employer can turn down the request but they have to have a good reason for doing so and they need to act reasonably. There are eight specified reasons for which they can turn down a request. Among these reasons are, for example, insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work, inability to reorganize work among existing staff. It’s a relatively easy process to request flexible working in the UK.

Q: Zero hours contracts are very topical in the UK at the moment, what rights do employees have under those contracts?

C: As you say, zero hours contracts have engendered much publicity because there was a perception that potentially they were being abused. About 5 million people in the UK work under so called  zero hours contracts. What that means is rather than the traditional employment model where the employer offers set hours and the employee is required to work those set hours, the employer and the employee can be more flexible and the employer only asks the employee to work if they have work to give them, but equally the employee can accept or decline the work. Once they are actually working they do have the statutory employment rights such as the right to the National Minimum Wage, paid annual leave, sick pay, rest breaks and protection from discrimination.

There was one particular area where people were concerned that potentially zero hours employers were abusing their position, where they put provisions in the contract stating that the employee couldn’t work for anyone else, meaning flexibility on the part of the employer but not so much for the employee. Exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts have now been outlawed so you can’t do that anymore

Q: Finally, working from home arrangements. Who would fall under these arrangements?

C: Anyone who could potentially can work from home is entitled to request it. That can be part of a flexible working request. For some people that can work very well. A survey done in 2014 which suggested that 73% of home workers are in the highest socio economic group, so it is obviously something very popular  amongst professionals.

As an employer there are a few things you need to be wary of.

  • You still need to establish ground rules, are there set hours when the person is ready and available to work and they may well need to match the hours of the people who are actually in the office.
  • You need to ensure that the worker does not work excessively. They are still subject to the Working Time Regulations, but of course it is much more difficult to regulate these matters and so the employee needs to understand and be responsible for regulating their own working time and taking breaks as appropriate.
  • The employer must be concerned about health and safety.

From the employees point of view they also need to be clear that they are actually able to work from home, because some people may have, for example it may be in their lease or their mortgage terms or in respect of their household insurance which may prevent them from working from home which they will need to overcome, for example by increasing their insurance cover. Other than that it can work very well.

Conclusion: Thank you Catrina for that insight. It does seem that in the UK there are a range of SMART working alternatives available to employees.