Remote working: The challenges for employees
There are many different forms of remote working. The practice has become increasingly popular over the past decade as advances in technology have made it much easier to keep connected.
Those who champion remote working argue that it can benefit both employers and employees in a variety of ways. Equally, there are others who argue that it makes working life more difficult.
But whatever your viewpoint, working away from the office doesn’t exclude you, as an employee, from being unfairly treated, unfairly dismissed or discriminated against.
Indeed, remote working can sometimes make you more vulnerable to such mistreatments than if you physically worked at your employer’s premises.
To explain how and why this can happen, we outline what remote working is, who can be a remote worker and what challenges face you if you work remotely.
Our focus is on remote working for UK employees, rather than for self-employed people.
What is remote working?
Remote working means that you carry out your work role away from the physical business premises of the organisation that employs you.
Some people also practice hybrid working, where they typically divide their week between physically attending their employer’s accommodation and working remotely.
Remote working is based on the assumption that you have access to and can use various technological tools to do your job and to communicate with colleagues and customers/clients.
It’s also clearly best suited to office-type work rather than work that requires person-to-person interaction, such as forms of medical treatment and hospitality.
Where can remote working be done?
Remote working has become closely associated with working from home, but there are no real set rules on where remote working can happen, so long as you can still carry out your job and the duties associated with it, to an acceptable level.
Whatever form remote working takes, it offers you the freedom to work from almost any location, including outside of the UK.
Some employees work in different locations around the UK, while others may work abroad for at least some of their time, but pay tax in the UK.
Who can be a remote worker?
Every employee has the legal right to ask their employer to work flexibly, which includes working remotely.
From 6th April 2024, the Employment Relations (Flexible working) Bill gives you the legal right to make a flexible working request from the first day of your employment. (Prior to that, you had to have worked for your employer for a minimum of 26 weeks.)
All requests should be dealt with by your employer in a ‘reasonable manner’. That means they should fairly weigh up the pros and cons of the application, discuss the request with you and offer you a right to appeal if they refuse your initial application.
A remote working request can’t be turned down just because your employer doesn’t like the idea, but only for a good business reason, i.e. a reason they believe it would negatively impact the performance of the organisation.
For further detail, see our Flexible working guide.
Can remote workers be discriminated against?
Remote working presents a whole host of new challenges that employers may not have had to deal with before.
The lack of face-to-face interaction means both parties have to work a little harder to ensure there is good communication and understanding about each other’s needs.
Employers have a duty of care to their employees, especially when it comes to health and safety and the protection of their employees’ workplace rights.
Due to the nature of remote working, it can be much more difficult to manage some of these concerns, especially if you are continuously working from different locations, such as may be the case if you are a field sales rep, for example.
This can lead to your being treated unfairly or to discrimination against you.
Such treatment can vary from failing to provide you with the right work tools or infrastructure to perform your duties remotely if you’re disabled, to bullying or harassment that may take place in written form or during video calls.
If you’re a remote working employee and haven’t yet informally resolved problems of mistreatment or discrimination against you, you may be thinking about taking matters further.
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