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Can I dock remote workers’ pay?

Posted by HR & Employment Team

We’ve seen a lot of controversy online over the past couple of days regarding law firm Stephenson Harwood’s announcement that they’re to cut pay by 20% for home workers. Here, our legal experts from Supportis HR wade into the discussion…

Stephenson Harwood announced that employees were welcome to work remotely 100% of the time, however, this would come at a cost of a 20% salary reduction. The policy was extended to all staff, including lawyers, below partner level.

This has been heavily criticised, and a rep from the company responded by highlighting that they also operate a Hybrid Working policy, in which employees can come into the office at least 3 days out of 5 for full pay.

It’s not gone unnoticed that none of those who have taken the firm up on the 100% remote option are trainee or junior lawyers. With the cost of living higher than ever, we find it difficult to understand how deducting from pay would be deemed a reasonable solution to any issues employers might find wfh causes. Especially as of course they will be saving on operating costs including office space whilst employees aren’t in the office.

Having a ‘one fits all’ policy such as the one Stephenson Harwood have implemented not only bypasses individual consultation (which we would always recommend when changing any terms and conditions of employment, especially for staff with over 2 years’ service!) but it’s also risky in terms of being potentially discriminative.

If working from home has been favoured by women with caring responsibilities, or by a disabled employee for practicality reasons, docking their pay is running the risk of leaving the company open to claims of indirect discrimination.

By virtue of the policy offering less pay to those who wfh, this also must infer that home workers aren’t as productive, hardworking or committed as those in the office. We have seen research to the contrary of this outdated view time and time again.

Furthering a point we’ve touched on above, those who wfh will inevitably face higher utility costs as they’ll be home all day as well as the evening. With soaring costs of living, it could certainly be argues that docking pay for home workers is ignorant to this issue and contributing to employee’s struggling to pay bills – a real and unfortunately more common problem than most employers would like to address.

We’re no stranger to reporting on the ‘great resignation’ of 2021. As millennials and gen Z especially simply aren’t willing to put up with remaining in professional situations where they don’t feel valued, employees wanting more flexibility will end up looking elsewhere.

In conclusion, employers thinking of cutting pay for those who wfh would need to be able to justify that cuts were a legitimate and proportionate measure, e.g. by proving that 20% of wages were saved by the employee by not coming into the office. We argue this wouldn’t be reasonable or practicable.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts… Connect with us on socials @supportishr and join the discussion, where we report on all things HR, employment law and H&S every weekday!

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