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Work-Life Balance: Know Your Rights

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As our honeymoon period with working from home begins to fade, experts are growing concerned about the impact that remote working is having on our ability to switch off.

According to a survey published in The Independent last week, around 42% of workers in the UK said their work-life balance has worsened since their job went remote, with many reporting difficulties transitioning from work to relaxation mode while in the same space.

Struggling to strike a work-life balance is not a new thing in the UK. In 2020, the national Productivity Index revealed more than a third of our workforce regularly clocked more than 50 hours a week, which is above the maximum working limit of 48 hours laid out by the EU.

Sociologists blame this imbalance for a myriad of health problems, ranging from stress to coronary artery disease, and have warned that employers must do more to avoid over-working their teams.

Your legal right to a work-life balance

It almost goes without saying that longer working hours do not equal productivity. Infact, research suggests that the average worker is only productive for around two and a half hours in an eight-hour workday. Yet despite this, many UK companies continue to foster unhealthy workplace cultures that ask more of their employees than they legally should.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at what the law says about your right to a healthy work-life balance.

Flexible working hours

One of the key ways workers can redress the work-life balance is through a flexible working request. Under UK law, anyone has the right to request flexible working, regardless of their childcare situation.

Featured within an article on the website Lawyers & Business, Madaline Dunn reported that: “You may seek out a request for a number of different reasons, perhaps you have children to look after, and want to change your start and finishing times to fit with this. This is known as flextime. You may also request that your flexible working schedule applies to each working day, or limit it to just a few days a week.”

Employers are obligated to deal with such requests in “a reasonable manner”, which generally means assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal and discussing any issues or concerns with the employee before making a decision. The employer then has three months to either approve or deny the request.

If the request is denied the employer must provide an opportunity for appeal. A few of the reasons an employer may legally decline flexible working are that they believe your work will suffer, they are unable to recruit additional workers to cover for you, or that there were structural changes planned before your request.

Defending your right to a work-life balance

Before you launch legal action against your employer, you should contact the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). ACAS provides independent advice on workplace disputes and facilitates early discussions between parties. In some circumstances, it can also make decisions about cases. Under normal circumstances, the issue is settled outside of court.

However, if the sides are not able to reach a mutually agreeable decision, an employee may decide to take the case to an employment tribunal. Reforms to the process in 2017 have made this route more accessible for employees who have encountered unfair treatment at work, with the supreme court unanimously ruling to eradicate tribunal fees.

Legal Support

If your case escalates to the point of an employment tribunal, it is highly advisable to seek legal advice to ensure you are protected. There are a couple of different options to help you find legal representation. The first and most popular is to contact a local solicitor to act on your behalf.

There are also many websites that you can use to find lawyers which make it simple to find accredited law firms in your area. Concerned about in-person consultations? Many UK law firms now also offer their services online to avoid unnecessary health risks. So it is worth asking a local firm if they can facilitate a virtual consultation if this is something you would be more comfortable with.

Work-life balance and working from home

While for some the prospect of joining a virtual workforce is troubling, for others this new way of doing business is helping to redress the work-life balance. Many have found that working from home has enhanced their work-life balance as they no longer need to travel to and from an office each day, which for many saves at least 1 hour per day.

Obviously how well this works for an individual though depends on their particular circumstances as having the available space to work from is just one of the many factors that makes such ways of working practical or not.

PM Today Contributor
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