Encouraging people to work from home where they can has helped drive down coronavirus cases, but it has hit many businesses that rely heavily on a flow of commuters.
A Whitehall source told the Daily Mail: “We are looking at introducing a default right to flexible working. That would cover things like reasonable requests by parents to start late so they can drop their kids at childcare.
“But in the case of office workers in particular it would also cover working from home – that would be the default right unless the employer could show good reason why someone should not.”
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove suggested this week that the UK would not go “back to the status quo”, referring to a hybrid model that included home working.
He told Radio 4: “Now, I suspect – and I’m not advocating this, I’m just thinking of the future – I suspect it may be the case that we may see different workplaces allowing people to work from home at certain points as well as coming into the office. I think there may be changes to the way that we live.”
It could effectively allow the millions of office staff who have worked from home during the pandemic to remain doing so for all or part of the week, indefinitely.
Ministers also discussed the impact of hybrid working on towns and cities, with reports that chancellor Rishi Sunak was worried that urban economies could be stifled if too many people choose to work from home.
At the start of lockdown in March 2020, the Government issued guidance that anyone who can work from home should.
When cases began to fall this was revoked and ministers actively encouraged people back into offices, only reverse the policy weeks later when cases rose.
Under existing law, employers can require staff to attend the workplace. A refusal to go in to work can be deemed an “unauthorised absence”, allowing an employer to begin disciplinary proceedings.
Yesterday, a leaked Cabinet Office presentation on the post-Covid “new normal” revealed ministers had been told they should not encourage workers to go back to their desks even if all social distancing measures are lifted on July 19.
Scientists also suggested to the Government that a hybrid approach should be introduced this summer under which people were supported to continue working from home but not officially told to do so.
The Conservative 2019 manifesto before the pandemic promised to legislate for flexible working.
It read: “We will encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to.”
People living in London were most likely to report having worked from home in the last week; it was also most common among the 30 to 49 year age group, where 45 per cent of people work from home.
A survey from the Institute of Directors of about 600 businesses showed that 63 per cent planned to adopt hybrid working even after restrictions eased.
On Monday, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that around one in 10 staff have been put under pressure to return to work with it rising to one in six for disabled workers.
A Government spokesperson said: “We have paused at step three for up to four weeks due to the new Delta variant, and we will continue to assess the latest data on this variant over the coming weeks.”