Once an employee has worked for you for 26 weeks, they have the right to request flexible working. This applies to all employees, not just parents and carers.

As an employer, you are required by law to deal reasonably with a request for flexible working.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is an arrangement that gives some flexibility over when, where and for how long employees work.

There are several ways in which flexibility can be given, including:

  • Flexitime, where employees work a set number of hours, including some over a core time period, with the remaining hours done when they wish;
  • Compressed hours, where a full week’s work is done in fewer days than normal;
  • Staggered hours, where employees start and finish at different times;
  • Annual hours contract, where a specified number of hours are worked during the year, but weekly working hours can vary;
  • Working from home, either some or all of the time;
  • Job sharing, where two people have one job between them and split the hours worked;
  • Phased retirement, where workers can choose when they retire and reduce their hours and work part-time before retiring fully.

Is flexible working a legal right?

Employees do not have a legal right to flexible working, however they do have the right to request it if they have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks, are legally classed as an employee and have not made another request for flexible working during the previous year.

The request should be made in writing and should outline what effect they think any changes would have on you as their employer and how they feel any issues could be dealt with.

As an employer, you must consider their request fairly. If you are considering rejecting their request, you should arrange a meeting with them to discuss the issue.

If it is not possible to agree to flexible working you should look at whether there are any other options. You can refuse a flexible working request where there is a valid business reason for doing so, such as:

  • Additional cost
  • A negative effect on quality of work or performance
  • Increased burden of work on other staff members
  • Difficulties in meeting customer demand
  • Not enough work available at the time the employee wishes to work
  • Proposed changes to the business

The employee must be given a decision within three months of making the request and, if the request is refused, they should be allowed to appeal.

An employee cannot be dismissed or treated less favourably because they have made a flexible working request.

While you do not have to treat every application the same way, for example, if two employees make the request and your business can only have one flexible worker, but you must ensure that you do not make a decision based on a protected characteristic, such as age, race or gender.

If your business has its own code for responding to flexible working requests, you should follow this. Otherwise, you should comply with the Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests.

How to implement flexible working

If a flexible working request has been agreed to, it is likely that the employee’s employment contract will need to be amended to reflect any changes.

If an employee will be working from home, then health and safety checks will be required, to include ensuring that their equipment is safe, that their seating is comfortable and that the room where they are working is acceptable for their health.

Recording and managing employees’ hours and workloads is important to ensure that they are meeting their contractual obligations.

If other employees are likely to be affected, their situation must be monitored. If they are expected to work harder, longer hours or take on more of a workload, they are likely to resent this unless it is addressed, for example, by taking on another employee or by increasing their pay.

The new arrangements can be trialled on a temporary basis. If they are introduced, then there should be ongoing monitoring.

It is important to ensure that your business has a bespoke flexible working policy in place. This can help ensure that everyone is treated fairly and ensure that employees know what their options are and how to make a request.

Flexible working for parents

One of the aims of the flexible working rules is to improve family life for parents. If as an employer you do not agree to a flexible working request from a parent, there is a risk you could face a discrimination claim. For example, if you have agreed to let mothers work on a flexible basis, but you refused a father’s request, he might be able to claim that this is discrimination against him as a man.

In addition, employees have the right to take time off to deal with a family emergency. Parents who have been employed for at least a year can also take unpaid parental leave of up to four weeks a year, to a maximum of eighteen weeks.

In summary

Flexible working can be advantageous to a business, with improved motivation and productivity and with an organisation being more attractive to potential new employees.

However, it is important that flexible working is managed carefully to ensure that it does not become divisive between flexible and non-flexible workers.

How Springhouse can help with flexible working

At Springhouse Employment Solicitors we can advise you on dealing fairly with flexible working requests. We can draw up new employment contracts where necessary as well as a comprehensive company policy dealing with the whole subject.

Find out about rights for employees with families

Our expert employment law solicitors can help ensure that you comply with family rights regulations and that you provide the benefits and facilities your employees are entitled to.

We can give you a clear picture of what you are expected to provide for your employees and, if required, help you defend you against any grievances or discrimination claims.

Contact us for an initial chat with our helpful team.

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