Travel firms have been told to expect an “inevitable” increase in flexible working requests from employees once the Covid-19 pandemic is over.

The warning follows a dramatic rise in the number of staff working from home in the last six months during the UK lockdown.

At the second C&M Travel Recruitment advice webinar, held in association with Travel Weekly, speaker Ami Naru, partner at travel law firm Travlaw, said the number of employees working from home had been rising prior to the pandemic.

In 2005, 8% of the UK working population worked from home, by 2014 it was 14% and during lockdown this rose to 86%, she said.

Naru said: “It’s inevitable that in the coming months, as we hopefully come out of the wretched Covid issue, that the number of flexible working requests will increase. Even without Covid, the numbers have been increasing over recent years.

“Going forward there will be a greater expectation: can we do some, if not all, of our job from home?”

She warned employers should respond in a “responsible manner” within three months of any request by members of staff for flexible working arrangements, but also stressed that just because of the current situation employees do not have “an automatic right” to work from home.

A switch to working flexibly constitutes a change to an employee’s normal working pattern and therefore involves a statutory procedure which has to be followed, said Naru.

“Ideally you will have a meeting with your employee, or a Zoom or phone call in the current situation,” she said.

Only employees who have 26 weeks of continuous service can apply for flexible working arrangements, and only one request can be made in any given 12 month period.

The request must also be made in writing, such as by email,  and set out how any detrimental effect this could have on the business could be alleviated.

Employers do not have to accept the request and can also allow the new working practices on a trial basis and review whether this will be made permanent. If travel firms reject a request this must be on specific grounds, such as additional cost or the need to recruit additional staff.

“The added complication is that people have now worked from home and proved they can do it,” added Naru.

Any resulting changes to the employee’s contract need to be made within a month of the change taking affect, and travel firms should also put a homeworking policy in place to cover aspects such as data protection, and health and safety.

Insurance liability is another issue firms need to address in terms of whose insurance any work equipment falls under, for example.

Speaker Claire Steiner, HR specialist and UK director of the Global Travel and Tourism Partnership, emphasised the importance for employers to look out for employees’ mental health if they are working from home.

“As we come out of this period and we see more people working from home there needs to be a focus on how these people are doing. Do we need to start thinking about training course to help people with remote working needs to do their jobs more effectively?”

She also urged companies to focus on “results” rather than whether employees are physically in the office. “The shift is from being seen to be at work to looking at the results,” she added.

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