Will we see more tribunal cases as employers demand staff return to the workplace?

Steve Bridger

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Community Manager

20 Jun, 2024 14:44

I'm unashamedly piggy-backing a Guardian survey with this thread. 

In their words...

Lawyers and HR experts expect an increase in employment tribunal cases as companies increasingly demand staff members return to the workplace. We want to hear from people in the UK who disagree with their employer’s decision to end working from home. Are you in dispute with your employer over changing their remote working policy? What action have you taken? When did this begin? Why do you want to remote work?

Are you seeing a trend in your work setting? 

Back in early September 2023 we discussed the trend in this thread...
Compulsory Return to the Office 

In May we were sharing some thoughts on How to encourage staff to come into the office more regularly? 

While some have effectively mandated 'back-to-the-office'...
Man Utd staff must return to the office... or resign with an early bonus 

...other businesses are - or have gone - fully remote, which we have been discussing in the last week or two, here...

 Remote-first organisation 

 Remote working policy 


 Remote workers are less likely to get promoted, new data shows 

What are you seeing in your respective sectors? Horses for courses, I guess. 

I'd be interested to hear more.

  • Interesting Steve, I'm curious about others' experiences.

    Here in the unique world of English Cathedrals, from what I gather from my peers, most have some form of hybrid working for those staff who can (certain roles like visitor facing, estate, retail or gardens related etc, often being out of scope). That doesn't seem to be changing as it is a cost effective way for us to attract and retain talent in the charity sector, which is often paying lower salaries. From what I glean from the wider charity sector, equally there doesn't seem to be a return to solely office based working. In the civil service (thinking of it as a whole as opposed to its myriad of smaller entities) I hear there are some contested views on returning to a higher proportion of office based days. However, this is just me reporting from my tiny sphere and its connections, happy to be corrected :)
  • I had an interesting case, not all that long ago.

    A team member was bringing an ET following the refusal of his WFH request. When I looked into it, the request had been utterly botched and the employee's case was pretty watertight. But when I dug deeper, I found out that the employee's manager was quite keen for them to work from home, wanted to work from home herself and her manager - head of the whole unit - also wanted more remote working, but they were all operating under the impression that the organisation had dictated a minimum of three days in the office (which it had not).

    Unpicking the whole thing, it ended up with the employee in question returning to the office for a period of one-to-one training, after which he and the whole of the rest of the unit moved to a remote-only model (with annual, on site, training days). They vacated their office and saw their turnover plummet and the productivity unaffected (I'd love to pretend the productivity went up, but when I last checked in there was no evidence that it had significantly changed). Also, the ET case was withdrawn.

    This was kind of what I referred to on the Man Utd thread, about clarity. A lack of clarity on remote working can be a major contributor to conflict. At least with a really clear statement from the very top, managers and employees all know where they stand.

    But this all ties into a trend I see increasingly often and which deeply disturbs me: the increase in the number of businesses that aren't being run with the intention of maximising profit in the traditional sense. This is often referred to as "late stage capitalism", but my experience is increasingly that businesses are being run as investment vehicles, in which long-term, sustainable profit is far, far less important than how much money the business can be leveraged for, to sustain the short-term interests of investors.

    I recently did a case study on a business that was originally bought by PE investors for EUR143m, before being flipped, four years later, for EUR1.2bn, before being flipped again, three years later, for EUR2.75bn. But there is absolutely no conceivable way that the value of the business increased by 19x in that seven years. And, sure enough, the business is now being spun out with USD1.5bn in debts to service, resulting in severe cuts in headcount and product lines as management desperately tries to stop the cash haemorrhage.

    Why this ties back to remote working is that it is the same mentality that drives the opposition to remote working. Remote working robs owners and senior business leaders of a sense of personal status. If they don't have their reserved parking spaces and big offices and personal assistants bringing them coffee, and they can't make whole rooms tense up when they stride in, they don't feel like they're in charge. They have been propelled to leadership on a wave of unearned privilege and when you strip away the pageantry, their lack of skills and knowledge is laid bare for their investors to see.

    Because other than being run as investment vehicles, the other purpose for which businesses are run (and Man Utd is a perfect example, given its spectacular inability to turn a profit) is to prop up the fragile egos of their owners, something which remote working brutally undermines.

    Thank you for coming to my TED talk. My tendency to say things like this might explain why I can't get employment in the private sector...
  • In reply to Robey:

    Really like the Ted Talk Robey.
  • In reply to Gemma:

    I think Labour's intent to remove the 2 year period before an employee can claim unfair dismissal is FAR more likely to clog up the tribunal system than WFH arrangements. Between that and the removal of the fee to submit a claim in 2017, it'll be years before claims are heard at tribunal.