Many more people work than before. This can bring many benefits to workers. It can help them get a better work/life balance.
Flexible working can include working from home, hybrid working and other types of flexibility. When operated in co-operation with trade unions it can be a positive way to improve the working. However, there are disadvantages to some workers.
Therefore, Wales TUC has produced these principles for flexible working to support workers, trade union reps and employers to support mutually beneficial conversations on the subject.
Flexible work needs to be open to all, with flexibility the normalised default position in a workplace, rather than a perk reserved for a favoured few. The full range of flexible working options, should be considered, advertised in job roles and made available to current employees. The needs of one group of flexible workers, for example, home workers, should not be prioritised above others, for example, those who require predictable shifts. No expectation as to the minimum percentage of time to be spent in the workplace will be used as a reason for turning down a request for hybrid working.
Flexible working must be voluntary not imposed and workers should have an opportunity to change their flexible working arrangements, for example remote workers having the opportunity to return to full or partial office-based working should they so wish. Any contractual change related to flexible working should be negotiated with the recognised trade union.
Flexible working arrangements should reflect genuine, two-way flexibility, helping workers balance work and their life outside the workplace. We would strongly oppose the introduction of any steps which promote employers’ ability to have an “on demand” workforce, while minimising their obligations to the people who work for them, through such means as zero-hours contracts.
Workers must not be subject to discrimination or disadvantage as a result of their flexible working arrangements. Workers’ contractual terms, conditions and level of remuneration must not be diminished as a result of accessing flexible working including home working. The process for arranging flexible work should be transparent to ensure fair treatment for all workers.
Technology must not be used to make discriminatory and unlawful decisions about people at work and there must also be equal access to technology at work for all, regardless of characteristics such as age or disability.
Employers must ensure that they comply with their positive and proactive duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers regardless of their work location or pattern. Flexible working, including home working, can be a reasonable adjustment itself. Hybrid working does support equality and inclusion. Greater flexibility, in both where and when people work, can open up opportunities, including those who have disabilities or caring responsibilities. Hybrid working is a valid reasonable adjustment that should be used as needed.
Working from home can bring benefits to carers and those with school age children. It can enable the employee to work around their caring role.
However, it is important that employees keep their caring role separate from their work.
The employer should also make clear that it is not possible to combine some forms of caring and childcare with work. Where this is due to short-term unforeseen circumstances or alternative arrangements are not available, the employer should talk through possible options with the employee such as revised working hours or the use of special leave.
Flexible workers, including home workers must have the same access to employer funded training and development opportunities as others. Training should be offered to line managers to support effective and equitable management of staff who work flexibly including remote workers and progression, participation in training and retention rates should be monitored.
Flexible work must not result in an atomised, isolated workforce. Employers must ensure that communication methods they use enable flexible workers’ full and equal participation and contribution in all areas of work life and allow workers to collaborate. This includes meetings between colleagues, supervision sessions and provision of information. Mechanisms must be set up to ensure that remote or part-time workers are not disadvantaged through being cut out of information exchanges between office-based workers.
Objections to flexible work, in particular home working, often come from a view that workers cannot be trusted to perform tasks when out of sight of their employer. People should be trusted to do their job and judged by their ability to carry out their role rather than by when and where they work.
Recognised unions must have access to all workers, regardless of where, when and how they work, and all workers must be able to access the support of a union at work. Time spent attending union meetings by workers should be treated as working time and therefore paid. Health and safety and union representatives should be able to visit and contact remote workers, with the agreement of the worker.
Home workers must also have the same opportunity as others to stand for union positions, access facility time and facilities and to undertake any duties and training required as union representatives. Employers should ensure to follow the ACAS code of practice for time off for trade union duties and activities so that union members who work flexibly are not disadvantaged.
Employers should respect the importance of clear work-home life boundaries and flexible working should not result in work intensification, for example working excessive hours or not taking sick leave.
Workers must have the right to disconnect from work and have “communication-free” time in their lives to establish a decent work-life balance and appropriate boundaries between work and personal life, including when working from home and in relation to use of digital devices.
Employers should negotiate right to disconnect policies with trade unions. These boundaries are essential to the core trade union demand of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
We encourage all employers to adopt the values we set out in our AI manifesto: Dignity at Work and the AI Revolution when considering the use of AI to manage people. No new technology should be introduced that infringes workers' right to privacy, breaches data protection legislation, or has a negative impact on their physical or mental health, or their safety. Workers’ right to privacy is strengthened when they work from home.
Surveillance and monitoring of workers in their homes is likely to be unlawful. Monitoring a worker in their own private home can cause psychological stress and potentially infringes the right to privacy of their family members who also use the office space and computer.
Employer decisions should be transparent and negotiated through a trade union. This applies to any new technology used. It should be clear to people when technology is being used to make decisions about them at work. The way in which these decisions have been made must be easy to explain and understand. And there should be enough information available to workers and job applicants about the technology to ensure they can trust it will operate fairly.
Employers should negotiate collective agreements with trade unions on the introduction of new technologies and data, including any workplace surveillance and monitoring, with trade unions before they are implemented to ensure worker’s interests are respected.
As part of a transparent working environment, workers should have the right to human review of decisions made by AI in the workplace which are high-risk and the right to insist that they can interact with a human being rather than a machine or algorithm when high-risk decisions are being made about them.
Where it is agreed that work should be primarily carried out at home, employers should provide and maintain the equipment necessary for home workers to work safely and effectively. Employers should recognise that workers will experience inequalities in their homes, for example, the amount of space and furniture available to them. Equipment should therefore include all items needed by these workers not just IT equipment.
Working from home can come with additional expense as costs are passed from the employer to the worker. Employers should provide support towards additional costs associated with home working such as heating and any upgrades required to achieve a secure and reliable internet connection.
Employers should not only meet regulatory health and safety obligations, but also promote decent work practices and standards agreed with the workforce. Employers should conduct risk assessments for those working from home accompanied by a trade union health and safety rep. These should include both physical and mental health, including the impact of isolation on the mental health and wellbeing of homeworkers.
All working from home is covered by the Working Time Regulations and contract. Staff will not work more than their contracted hours whilst at home and will comply with all necessary time recording required by the regulations.
Hybrid working is a valid redundancy avoidance measure and as such should be incorporated as a negotiable option into redundancy agreements and arrangements.
Hybrid working can be an alternative to being dismissed on the grounds of sick absence.