London law firm Stephenson Harwood to 'cut pay by 20%' for staff wanting to work from home full-time

Working from home (wfh) stock image.
PA Images
It comes after the company recruited staff outside London during lockdown (stock photo). Credit: PA Images

A top London law firm is giving staff the chance to work from home permanently - in return for a reported 20% pay cut.

Stephenson Harwood said the offer would be open to all employees, except partners, as the company adapts to more flexible working in a post-pandemic world.

The law firm employs over 1,100 people worldwide with its headquarters in London and eight offices across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

The salary sacrifice scheme comes after the company recruited staff outside London during Covid lockdown rules.

It comes amid widespread debate globally about whether workers should get the right to choose to 'wfh' permanently.

Proponents have citing rising living costs, including childcare and commuter fares, as an argument to allow people to work flexibly.

But Stephenson Harwood's reported offer has reignited debate over the future of 'London weighting' - in which companies offer employees higher pay to reflect the higher expense of living in the capital.

A commuter at a quiet Waterloo station in London.

"During the pandemic, for a small number of roles in our London office, we looked beyond London and recruited people who lived elsewhere in the UK," the firm said in a statement.

"It enabled us to access and attract talented candidates who might not otherwise have been available to us.

"The packages we offered – including salaries, but also expectations – were different from what we offer our people who regularly work from the office in London.

"We recently decided to open the option of fully remote working to existing employees as well," the statement added.

Stephenson Harwood said staff were currently allowed to work at home for up to two days a week without any impact on their salary.

"This is consistent with the approach taken by many City law firms. Like them, we see value in being in the office together regularly, while also being able to offer our people flexibility," the company said.

Last month civil service unions hit back at Boris Johnson after he criticised a post-Covid "manana culture" that saw some staff prefer to work from home.

'Manana' roughly translates to 'an indefinite time in the future' in Spanish, and refers to stereotypes of a more relaxed approach to timekeeping.

Relations between the Government and officials have lately been strained by a drive, led by the minister responsible for government efficiency, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to get staff to return to their desks.

Rees-Mogg sparked debate when he left notes in empty Whitehall offices, suggesting employees who have continued working from home as Covid measures eased should return to the workplace.

The Prime Minister said there was a "general issue" in the public sector – and perhaps more widely in the economy – about refusing to give up remote working.

However unions have defended employees who have adapted to working from home, and want to continue with the flexible approach.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: "The level of offence that Boris Johnson is causing towards the hard-working people who kept this country running during the pandemic is astounding.

"PCS members worked flat out to deliver vital public services such as Universal Credit and the furlough payments, at a time when the Prime Minister was breaking his own rules by partying.

"It is nothing short of rank hypocrisy, and PCS members deserve better."