Employment law in the UK is not fit for purpose for a future of homeworking, a law firm has said.

In a white paper published by Southampton-based Paris Smith solicitors, the limitations of employment law in a post-covid-19 world were explored.

It concluded that where employees have demonstrated they can work effectively from home or flexibly, it will be more difficult for employers to validly refuse flexible working requests on business grounds.

The research looked at the law around areas such including employees’ mental health, Zoom fatigue and flexible working; and explored the wider challenges faced by employers in the ‘new normal’.

It concluded that it’s time for a rethink. The study considered, for example, how remote communications such as Zoom can harm employee wellbeing at work, if left unregulated; and the potential for legislation to address the ‘always on’ culture.

The report questioned whether it is possible under existing employment law to “ensure a motivated and successful remote workforce”.

For instance, one issue the report highlighted will surface is whether employees have the right equipment to work from home.

“Who is obligated to ensure that they do?” it asked.

Clive Dobbin, head of employment at Paris Smith, said the law needs to be “completely updated to give greater rights to challenge an employer’s refusal to allow homeworking.”

Dr Simon Fox, head of law at Solent University, said the law will need to catch up and commented: “Covid-19 may mark a revolution in how we work.”

He added. “Just as the industrial revolution caused mass migration to cities and then legislation and common law to be developed to match the new social and industrial working practices, perhaps covid-19 has caused a migration to work from home with associated requirement for legal development.”

Meanwhile, a separate study by Wright Hassall found that the average worker is performing at least nine hours of overtime a week, compared to just three or more hours before the start of the pandemic - and that at least half (52%) are not being paid for it. 

The West Midlands firm said remote working has had a significant impact, with 34% of the 2,002 UK adults surveyed struggling to log off on time.

Tina Chander, the firm’s head of employment law, commented: “Not only has lockdown had a significant impact on businesses who are struggling financially, but it has also had an impact on their employees, many of whom are working extended hours trying to keep businesses afloat. 

“It can be emotionally and physically draining to work extra hours for no additional pay, and even more concerning if you’re not receiving the right level of support from your employer  when overtime starts to affect your mental health.”
 

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