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Malcolm Gregory

Expert opinion: A lower salary in return for Work From Home? It’s a legal minefield

Forcing staff to work from home for a lower salary will fall foul of UK employment law, says Malcolm Gregory of Royds Withy King

Staff at Google are being given the choice to work remotely on a permanent basis on a reduced salary. It is a move that is likely to be widely copied across many industry sectors.

But forcing staff to work from home for a lower salary will fall foul of UK employment law. Employers may also find themselves facing claims for discrimination from staff who are less able to commute.

Employers cannot change the terms and conditions of an employment contract without first gaining consent from staff, and it is important to note that Google is not forcing staff to accept a lower salary to work remotely on a permanent basis.

It seems as though Google employees are being given a choice and can continue to commute into its offices and remain on the same salaries.

Whilst many employers, particularly banks and financial services businesses, have said they expect staff to work from their city offices, this carrot approach is interesting and one that is likely to be widely copied.

Staff who are not expected to commute, particularly into central London, are effectively being asked to waive their London weighting.

This is, however, an employment law minefield for businesses. If they want all staff to work from an office, they may face an increase in formal requests to work from home that cannot be ignored.

If they offer fully remote working and wish to reduce salaries, they will need to gain consent. That may not always be given.

And staff with protected characteristics under employment law – particularly, age, disability, and pregnancy – who find it challenging to commute, may believe they are victims of indirect discrimination and bring claims against their employer.

Employers are likely to continue to face challenges in recruiting and retaining good people – the war for talent is as ferocious as it has always been.

Do staff continue to pay city salaries with flexible working, or offer complete flexibility for a reduced salary in the hope to attract a more diverse workforce? The answer is far from clear.

Malcolm Gregory is a partner in the employment law team at Royds Withy King