How might the cost of living crisis impact homeworking practices?

Until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Kingdom’s homeworkers were a relatively low proportion of the workforce. However, numbers have significantly grown, as employers have reconsidered their operating models and working practices in the aftermath of the pandemic. An increase in the number of so called ‘hybrid workers’ who spend part of their time working remotely and part of their time in the office has been seen across all sectors.

Figures from the ONS have showed that almost 40% of working adults in Great Britain are now working across multiple locations under a hybrid working model, and more than 8 in 10 workers across Great Britain have expressed plans to work in a hybrid manner.

Employees can find a variety of benefits from working from home. Such improvements could include an improved work-life balance, less time and expense spent commuting, greater autonomy and more time to spend on personal commitments. There are, of course, potential disadvantages to home working, such as difficulties keeping work and home life separate and having reduced living space due to part of the home being used for work purposes. Employees may also experience isolation and loneliness, and reduced motivation. More recently, employees may be seeing an adverse cost impact on working from home. 

A return to the office?

The Cost of Living Crisis is causing many people to reconsider day to day practices in order to offset their rising costs of living. One of the ways people might be looking to save money is to spend less time at home and more time in the workplace. This will become a more cost effective option should it become cheaper for staff to commute to work than heat their homes during the day. 

In a recent survey carried out by MoneySuperMarket, 14% of respondents said they plan to spend more time working form the office to reduce energy bills at home. This figure increased to 23% when looking at 18 to 24-year olds. A mass influx of people wanting to return to the office could create issues for businesses who have downsized office space in light of the pandemic. Although, it may be a welcome sight to others. 

Are homeworkers entitled to reimbursement of their bills?

There is no legal obligation for an employer to reimburse the expenses incurred by an employee who works from home. These expenses could include telephone bills, broadband, heating and lighting costs, as well as any increased insurance premium to account for home working. With overall living costs rising, employers may find that more employees approach them to see if such costs will be covered.

The Acas working from home guide recommends that employers talk to their employees and their representatives about who will cover any extra costs that employees may have when working from home. An employer can reduce these conversations and the risk of confusion by explicitly specifying within the employment contract which expenses an employee can and cannot claim when working from home, or by having a specific expenses policy which deals with this. If an employer has no expenses policy or no detail set out in the employment contract but has provided payment for certain expenses in the past, this could be deemed by a tribunal to have become contractual by way of custom and practice. 

The impact on employees’ mental health

It is important to consider the effect that the cost of living crisis may be having on employees. If employees are struggling to make ends meet then employers should be mindful of the fact that it may have a detrimental effect on their mental health. Employers should be sure to handle such issues with sensitivity.

How Moore Barlow can help

Our team of employment solicitors are highly regarded as leaders in their respective areas of law. They are accessible and approachable, explaining legal matters in plain, easy to understand language.

If you need advice on homeworking employees, contact our business employment law experts today.