Law firm says staff can work from home with 20% less pay

Staff at law firm Stephenson Harwood can choose to work from home permanently, but they will have to take a 20% pay cut.

Under its new hybrid and remote working policy, which took effect this month, full-time workers will have to be in the office 60% of the time unless they opt to sacrifice some of their salary for a full remote working contract.

According to legal sector news website RollOnFriday, which first reported the new policy, remote workers will still be required to work in an office at least one day per month, but their travel costs – including any hotel stays – will be covered by the firm.

“Like so many firms, we see value in being in the office together regularly, while also being able to offer our people flexibility”, a spokesman for Stephenson Harwood told RollOnFriday.

“For the vast majority of our people – and the candidates we speak to – our hybrid working policy works well.”

During the pandemic, the firm recruited new lawyers from outside of London on lower pay packages as they would not have to commute into the capital.

It has extended the policy to existing staff, but they will have to sacrifice some of their pay. For example, a newly qualified lawyer on an annual salary of £90,000 will see their pay cut to £72,000. The spokesman said it was not expecting many staff to take up the offer.

Partners at the firm will not be eligible to take up the full-time home working offer, the firm told the Times.

Not solving a problem

Martin Williams, head of employment at law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter, wondered why the policy was being offered if few staff were expected to take it up.

“If working from home is going to have a detrimental effect on meeting customer demand or quality of the work produced, how does paying someone less overcome that problem?,” he said.

“It is hard to see how taking money away solves any of the issues an employer thinks they might have with people working from home – especially when they are saving money on office space.”

It is hard to see how taking money away solves any of the issues an employer thinks they might have with people working from home – especially when they are saving money on office space,” – Martin Williams, Mayo Wynne Baxter

Williams said it would be difficult for any employer to decline requests for remote working if staff have proven they can work effectively from home since the pandemic hit.

“Having inflexible blanket policies on working from home is not a sensible approach. What employers need to do is to manage employee expectations and consult with staff on a case-by-case basis,” said Williams.

Philip Richardson, head of employment law at Stephensons Solicitors, said employers were having to make tricky decisions about how best to keep offices thriving while accomodating employees’ desired working practices.

“There will be many different approaches to this issue, but cutting pay is going to raise eyebrows. Many employees feel just as productive, if not more so than if they were commuting into the office every day,” he said.

“If their work and output is of a high quality, some will view the decision as harsh to penalise employees solely on the basis of where that work is done. The risk, ultimately, is that employees don’t feel trusted and that may lead some to seek alternative employment.”

Recent research from Henley Business School found 27% of employees would be willing to take a pay cut to work from home full time. Those surveyed were willing to forego £3,300 per annum on average.

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