Risk involved with working unpaid hours due to working from home

Monday 29th November 2021

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, working in excess of contracted hours from home has become the ‘norm’ for many workers.

The pandemic caused a shift to home-working, whether that be full-time or as part of a hybrid working policy, under which workers split their time between the office and home. As a result, 1 in 10 people now say they work at least 20 hours a week for free.

To accommodate home-working, companies have adopted ways for their staff to carry out work remotely by providing them with IT equipment and mobile phones.  With often no separation between living and working areas and with no commute, workers are taking less breaks and not logging off at their usual times, there is an increased loss of work-life boundaries.

Often, workers hate to say no: if a colleague emails after hours, they are likely to reply; if there’s a call scheduled for a time outside their work hours, they will join; if there is a need to work late, they will do so, even if this commitment is not necessarily reflected within their salary. Employees are often scared of losing their job and feel pressure from their colleagues, so if everyone else is working longer hours, they will too. Some roles come with even higher pressure and employers should be aware of this and consider their workers’ mental health.

Employers need to keep in mind the Working Time Regulations 1998. Under these Regulations, a worker must not work over 48 hours a week, unless they have agreed to opt-out of the Regulations. If you are aware of workers working in excess of 48 hours, as a result of home-working, you may want to ensure they have signed such an agreement, or you could face civil claims. Depending on the level of pay, this could also conceivably result in employees falling below the national minimum/living wage requirements in certain cases.

Employers should also bear in mind that some workers are becoming fed up with the excessive hours. Excessive hours can have a negative impact on an employee’s wellbeing and affect their mental health. This could lead to an increase in sickness absence or cause them to look for a job elsewhere, putting employers at risk of losing valued and experienced workers.


If you are concerned that you may be at risk of breaching the Working Time Regulations 1998 due to the implementation of home-working, whether on a full-time or hybrid basis, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team for further advice as you could also be in breach of your duty of care to your employees or failing to comply with health and safety regulations.

To view the full November Employment Law Update, click here: