BPE Solicitors consider the great hybrid working debate. Is a pay cut the answer?

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Ellie Forsyth and Steve Conlay in BPE’s Employment team consider the options regarding hybrid working and what can be done for those who are refusing to return to the office.

It is not often that an internal policy in a law firm makes worldwide news, however a recent policy of international law firm Stephenson Harwood has done just that.

As many companies in the UK have tangled with balancing a return to the office with the expectations of their employees and shareholders, Stephenson Harwood have introduced an interesting “agile working” proposal for staff;

  • Work from the office at least 60% of the time; or
  • Work from home full time for a 20% reduced salary.

Those working from home will be expected to come in at least once a month, however they will be paid travel expenses for the same.

It is an interesting proposal. On the one hand a full time working from home role may appeal to some, especially those with long commutes or child care commitments but conversely, it is unlikely that junior lawyers who may need more supervision or want to establish their place in the firm, or those that live close to the office will take up the opportunity.

One question being raised repeatedly in the comments section of various news outlets is “is this legal?”. The simple answer is, yes.

All employment contracts must state an individual’s place of work. That, in most cases is likely to be the office or the employer’s site. With most individuals currently working in an unofficial hybrid model, an employer could, at any point, ask for a full time return to the office in line with the terms of the employment contract. Any refusal to do so could lead to disciplinary proceedings and ultimately dismissal should the refusal continue.

What Stephenson Harwood have proposed is smart. It allows employees to choose and individuals will not have their wage reduced without their authority.

It will be interesting to see the uptake in Stephenson Harwood’s proposals. Initial comments seem to point to a very low take up on the proposals. Indeed a recent Linkedin poll by the legal website Legal Cheek showed 88% of respondents to the poll say they wouldn’t be prepared to accept the salary sacrifice proposed by Stephenson Harwood.

Such proposals may also be a solution to a frequently asked question of the Employment team at BPE relating to those who are receiving a London weighting allowance on their salary but have moved out of the city during the pandemic. It is likely that such a proposal can be extended to those individuals, however the terms of their employment contract will be key on any policy or decision made by employers.

We covered the topic of hybrid working back in August 2021 and a lot of the commentary still rings true today. What perhaps has changed is the increased expectations of staff for companies to offer hybrid working, adding to that the growing cost of living crisis making individuals reluctant to shell out on travel costs when they see no real need to.

Whatever policies companies adopt, it is clear that the pandemic has accelerated the hybrid working model with people getting used to their home comforts rather than a daily commute to the office. The world of working is changing and companies must change with it in order to keep their best staff and attract the best talent, not only locally but now from potentially much further afield.

If you need advice relating to hybrid working or home working policies of any sort and you are not sure how best to proceed, please do get in touch with a member of our experienced Employment Team on 01242 224433 who can assist you through the process.


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