If an employee asks to work flexibly and itâ€™s a new arena for your business, be open minded; more and more people are choosing to work like this so the chances are, you may have to adopt a flexible working policy at some stage in the future, so why not now?
A company that offers flexible working is viewed as being forward thinking, family and employee friendly, and can increase employee retention, productivity, whilst attracting fresh talent more readily when it comes to recruitment. So hereâ€™s what you need to know.
Who can ask to work flexibly?
Almost all employees with at least 26 weeksâ€™ service have the right to request flexible working. This includes both part-time and full-time employees.
If an employee has already made a request, they are not entitled to make another request until 12 months later. Employees with â€˜employee shareholder statusâ€™ do not have the right to request flexible working.
How should a flexible working request be handled?
The employee must apply in writing. Their application must include details of the change they are asking for, how they think it will affect the business and how the business could handle it.
The application also needs to have the date the request is made and the date they would like the change to start, as well as a statement that this is a statutory request for flexible working, whether or not they have made a request previously, and if so its date.
What do you need to do as an employer?
You must consider the request in a â€˜reasonable mannerâ€™. You should arrange to discuss the request with the employee as soon as possible. If they donâ€™t turn up to two or more meetings to do this (without a reasonable explanation), you may treat the application as withdrawn.
Think about the benefits of the proposed changes with regard to any adverse impact on the business. Let the employee know your decision as soon as possible and give them a right of appeal.
What should you do if youâ€™re not sure about the impact of the request?
You can negotiate with the employee to agree changes to what they are proposing. If youâ€™re not sure whether itâ€™s the right thing for the business, you could suggest changes on a trial basis. Make sure you outline an agreed date for reviewing this though so everyone is clear from the outset. That way, you can make amendments later on.
What if you want to say no to a flexible working request?
You can refuse an application to work flexibly only if there is a clear business reason. This must be one of the following reasons:
- The burden of additional costs.
- A detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand.
- An inability to reorganise work among other employees.
- An inability to recruit additional employees.
- A detrimental effect on quality.
- A detrimental effect on performance.
- Insufficient work at the times when the employee proposes to work.
- Planned structural changes.
You must reach your decision within three months. This deadline can be extended if the employee agrees.
What else do you need to think about if you refuse?
If you refuse the application, the employee could take further steps. You can find out more about this here. Itâ€™s best to try to deal with the problem internally by having an informal discussion with your employee to clear up any misunderstandings about the request though. If it still isnâ€™t possible to resolve the dispute, a third party may need to be involved.
What happens if you accept a request for flexible working?
You need to amend the employeeâ€™s contract of employment.
Decide whether you wish to agree a trial period. If the new arrangement changes the number of hours worked, it could affect their pay and holiday entitlement. And if theyâ€™re working from home, be aware that health and safety requirements will still apply.
How will these changes affect your other employees?
If an employee will be working fewer hours, make sure you have adequate cover in place. It could cause tension with other employees if it increases their workload, so itâ€™s best to inform the rest of your workplace about changes as soon as you can. Just make sure you keep everything fair, so for example, if youâ€™re creating a job share, responsibilities need to be split evenly between both parties.
The best advice is to be consistent in your approach. Keep records of who has applied to work flexibly, and what your response was. Monitor and evaluate how the new arrangements are working so you can put changes in place if necessary.
Remember, you must not discriminate or treat an employee less favourably for any reason, whether theyâ€™ve applied to work flexibly or if they do end up going to an employee tribunal about their request.
You can find further help about flexible working requests here. Or visit www.gov.uk/flexible-working for more information.