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Navigating Remote Working: UK Employment Law and Immigration Considerations for Tech Start-Ups 

The Covid-19 pandemic forced businesses to re-think their work location practices, with the majority adopting technological solutions at new speed to facilitate staff working fully remotely or on a hybrid model. As a result many jobs can now be worked from almost anywhere – resulting in “dedicated workspace” becoming a feature on Airbnb accommodation adverts!

There is a huge attraction to being able to work remotely from another part of the world, especially when that is being touted as an enviable lifestyle by influencers.  For many start-ups remote working can attract employees who want to take advantage of the greater freedom – and who are perhaps prepared to take a lower salary to do so, whilst simultaneously avoiding or minimising the cost of office space in premium locations.  This can be especially attractive when when competing with other larger tech companies who may now be encouraging or requiring employees to attend the office to work.

However, there are some key considerations…….. so before diving in and using the lure of remote working to attract talent, pause to consider.


Employment contracts

Whilst ensuring HR compliance may not be at the forefront of the mind of an entrepreneurial start up it is important to ensure employment contracts explicitly address remote working arrangements. It’s crucial to outline the terms and conditions related to remote work, including working hours, communication expectations, and performance metrics. Clarity in employment contracts helps mitigate potential disputes and sets clear expectations on both sides.

It is a legal requirement for an employment contract to state an employee’s place of work. If an employee works on a fully remote basis this is usually their home address. However, it would always be advisable to include some further parameters such as requirements to attend the Company’s physical offices or any such reasonable locations to attend meetings or to perform their work.


Data and confidentiality concerns

A fully remote workforce with little direction as to where they are permitted to do their work will likely work anywhere they feel comfortable as anyone buying coffee in a coffeeshop knows. There are some inherent risks involved in functioning in this way, including the visibility to others of confidential information, trade secrets or sensitive business information.   Whether that is via someone reading over a shoulder or a lost laptop an employer is wise to consider those risks in advance, not just to ensure appropriate screen covers and security protocols (so that work is only done on a network and not saved to desktops or so that laptops can be wiped remotely) but so that employees understand what is expected of them and how they are required to secure confidential information and data.   Depending on the role there may also be significant data protection concerns with personal data being shared across boarders in breach of GDPR obligations.


  • Carrying out a risk assessment. Where is the company is storing personal data and confidential information and is there a risks of this information being accessed by a third party;
  • Additional security measures that may be needed from a data protection perspective – these may vary depending on where the employee proposes to work;
  • Preparing and implement employee policies in relation to confidential information and data security. It may seem obvious that employees should use strong passwords and never leaving a laptop unlocked but without reminders people do tend to take the easy option and become lax; and
  • Insurance and cyber security protection.


Supervision and assessing performance

Not everyone is adept at time management, and managers are not necessarily adept at managing remote workforces.  Think about setting clear expectations and targets.  Do not make assumptions that remote staff will necessarily work traditional hours if that is not made clear, equally consider what those “working hours” should look like if someone is working abroad with colleagues in a variety of locations.  Set core availability hours so that expectations are clear and communication flows are not unexpectedly interrupted by time zones. Remind staff that down time is important a lack of differentiation between work and non work time can be a contributor to “burnout”.


Employment Claims

With employees being managed remotely there is a risk of inconsistent treatment leading to the potential for employment claims, including claims of discrimination.  Don’t forget to include remote workers in invitations for local events.  Out of site can mean out of mind – and that increases the risk of employees feeling they are being treated differently.  Ensure managers are aware of such risks and adopt working practices in terms of supervision, management and performance monitoring to minimise the potential for such claims.

Bare in mind that local laws (including employment laws) cannot often be contracted out of.  These will include statutory rights that will apply irrespective of the law that the contract states is applicable and will be afforded to employees simply because they work in the relevant jurisdiction.  Holiday rights, leave rights, minimum pay and other applicable mandatory laws should all be understood not just to ensure compliance but also to ensure that the business is ready for the potential cost – such as longer periods of paid family leave that may not be available in the UK.

Ensure that you are aware of the legislation that will apply as well local social security and tax legislation.


Immigration Issues

From 31 January 2024 new Immigration Rules make it clear that visitors to the UK are permitted to work remotely whilst they are in the UK but that remote working must not be the primary purpose of their visit. At present the Home Office’s guidance to its officer’s is that visitors are permitted to undertake activities relating to their employment overseas remotely whilst they are in the UK, such as responding to emails or answering phone calls. The officers are guided to check that the person’s main purpose for coming to the UK is to undertake a permitted activity (e.g. tourism, business visits etc.), rather than specifically to work remotely from the UK.

Equally UK businesses permitting employees to work remotely (whether whilst on holiday or for longer periods) need to ensure that they understand what local immigration legislation permits.  On rule does not fit all and whilst some locations are fairly permissive, others are not.


Employees/consultants from abroad – options as business visitors

But what is the position of those who are coming to the UK where the main intention is to collaborate with partners, clients or UK based colleagues? Is this allowed without specific work permission?  In an increasingly global world, it may feel very natural to have employees or consultants from abroad come to the UK to collaborate with staff in the UK for a short period of time. But immigration (and other) laws do not always keep pace with change and the answer is not as straightforward.

Visitors to the UK, need to satisfy the Immigration official that they are genuine visitors i.e. that they will leave the UK at the end of their visit; will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK their main home; they have sufficient funds to cover the cost of their visit; they are seeking entry to stay for a purpose that is permitted under the Visitor route; and will not undertake any prohibited activities which includes work.

Work is an activity which is generally prohibited as a Visitor unless expressly allowed under the permitted activities section of the Immigration Rules. The definition of work for the purposes of the visitor rules includes:

  • taking employment in the UK;
  • doing work for a business or organisation in the UK;
  • establishing or running a business as a self-employed person;
  • doing a work placement or internship;
  • direct selling to the public; and
  • providing good and services.

Permitted activities do include general business activities, some intra-corporate activities as well as some activities in the legal, creative, religious, manufacturing and sports sectors. Despite these exceptions, it is made clear that permitted activities must not also amount to the Visitor undertaking employment, or doing work which amounts to them filling a role or providing short term cover for a role within a UK based organisation and where the Visitor is already paid and employed outside of the UK they must remain so.

Things that are permitted as general business activities include: attending meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews; negotiating and signing delas and contracts; gathering information for their employment overseas; being briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK.

An employee of an overseas based company may advise and consult, troubleshoot, provide training and share skills and knowledge on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group.  From 31 January 2024, the previous prohibition on working directly with clients has been removed, but only if client facing activity is incidental to the visitor’s employment abroad and does not amount to the offshoring of a project or service to their overseas employer.

Be clear on what travelling and remote working staff can and cannot do whilst in a given jurisdiction as there is always a risk that Immigration officials could consider their activities to be work which falls outside of the scope of the activities permitted as a Visitor.

The importance of getting it right cannot be overstated given that the fines for illegal working have risen to £60,000 per illegal worker and the reputational damage of appearing on the Home Office’s published list!


Practical tip

As tech start-ups embrace the flexibility of a remote work force, understanding and complying with  employment and immigration laws is imperative. Whatever working arrangement a company has in place it is critical to be clear on what is expected.  Detail expectations in business policies to ensure everyone is on the same page and compliance risks are minimised.


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