Working From Home: What Are Your Rights as an Employee?
In a time of unprecedented working styles, it is worth exploring the legal rights of an employee in this brand new context. We speak to Matthew Sullivan of litigation finance company Kramer Sullivanto share their insights into employee rights in 2021.
According to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), a UK government department, some of the costs associated with working from home may be eligible for tax relief. These include gas and electricity bills, as well business phone calls.
The blurred line between private use and business use does pose some difficulties, however. Items and services that used for both personal and professional purposes cannot be claimed on one’s taxes. However, there may still be money to save here. In the UK, for example, you can fill out a P87 form accompanied by relevant receipts and payment records for expenses lower than £2,500 annually. For bills of more than £2,500, you can fill out a self-assessment tax return. If it’s too difficult to ascertain exact costs, you can also claim tax relief on £6 per week.
(We recommend readers based in the US and other countries outside the UK check with the relevant tax authorities to learn more about how they can deduct remote work expenses from their taxes.)
With the sudden shift to remote work, many had to equip themselves with the proper materials to turn their living rooms into offices. In some cases, this meant buying new software, furniture, or even a computer. In this situation, the employee and employer should come to an agreement about the equipment an employee needs and how the employer will support them. For example, it could be that an employer will foot the bill if the employee must pay out of pocket for work-required materials.
Pregnancy and Childcare
Despite all the grey areas surrounding working from home, some rights remain the same. Employers have many of the same obligations and commitments to their employees even when they are working remotely — particularly when it comes to supporting employees who have children or are expecting.
Juggling remote work with remote schooling, for example, can cause significant stress for workers. Depending on where you are located, you may be legally entitled to take time off to care for dependents. However, this is usually on a short-term basis and can often be unpaid. Be sure to check your local laws and regulations.
Employees who are suddenly forced to work from home will continue to be insured under their home insurance policies, according to experts from the industry. That being said, it is more complicated if you are legally able to return to work but actively choosing to work from home. In this situation, it can be advisable to inform your insurance provider. Depending on the household policy, you may be able to claim certain legal expenses.
Flexible Working Rules
In some jurisdictions, employees have the right to request flexible working conditions, up to a point, depending on how long they have been with the company. In the UK, for example, employees who have worked for their employer for a minimum of 26 weeks have the legal right to request flexible work arrangements, including working from home. Going forward, this is sure to have implications for the elusive return to the office.
Return to the Office
In a period of full lockdown, the return to the office is a moot point. However, when restrictions ease, it is worth exploring what is within the legal rights of employees. If an employer can assure that its workplace is safe from COVID-19, that employer has the right to demand staff return to the office, and an employee cannot legally refuse in certain jurisdictions.
That being said, many are perturbed by the prospect of returning to physical workplaces given the state of public health. Thus, exercising disciplinary action against employees who do not wish to return to the workplace immediately may not be the best call. At any rate, it’s a good idea to proceed with caution and determine the appropriateness of disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.
Employees’ legal rights vary widely by jurisdiction. Be sure to check local laws in your area. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
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