What are the contractual obligations if you decide to keep staff working from home for the long term?

With most employees now working from home, our resident agony (Dutch) uncle Graham Goodkind offers advice about the implications for this on employment contracts.

Question: Now we're all working from home, I'm thinking of moving to a hybrid office/WFH model. Are there any contractual things I need to think about if employees are working from home long-term?

There is a bit of a template for employment contracts that I’ve found most agencies use for their employees, but this is not really constructed with a WFH scenario in mind. Not for any sinister reason, but just because we weren’t even talking about WFH six months ago, it wasn’t really ‘a thing’.

A typical employment contract will state an employee’s working hours and their ‘usual place of work’. Hours will usually read 9am-5pm with slight variations by an hour here or there, with an hour allowed for a lunch break. I’m still trying to remember the last time I took an hour for lunch by the way!

The ‘usual place of work’ will usually state the head office address with a caveat for the employer along the lines of ‘or other location as to be reasonably decided by the employer’. So, if that company had say four locations in London, it could theoretically ask you to work from another of its bases.

I think the first thing to do is to work out what your business’s new working principles are going to be. This will probably require a lot of planning. How do you ensure you manage the benefits of WFH with the potential cost of loss of company culture? Think through how flexible you are going to be in terms of hours required ‘physically’ in the company’s offices? What are the working hours? Will it be 9-5 or perhaps a commitment to say 40 hours per week, at times to be agreed? There’s loads more things to think through.

When you have come up with an overall policy for how your company manages how it operates in terms of working hours and locations, consult with employees and ask for their feedback. Of course, take on board any good thoughts and comments. Then probably the right thing to do is to incorporate that overall policy into an appendix for individual employment contracts. In effect, you are varying their contracts. I think that asking employees to accept and agree to that variation appendix by exchange of email will then be sufficient contractually.

Written by Graham Goodkind who is a Dutch Uncle – a new type of non-exec business adviser – to several agencies in the marketing services sector, in addition to being founder and chairman of Frank.

If you have got a question for our agony (Dutch) uncle regarding any issue relating to the running, operations, business or financial aspect of a PR agency, either as an owner, manager or executive, then email gg@mydutchuncle.nl and your question may be featured in a coming issue.


Your PR Planning Guide PR Moment Awards 2020