8 myths about flexible working

There are many myths about flexible working that leave some employers feeling reticent about their use and employees scared to broach the subject.

Myth 1: It is only available to parents and carers.

Since June 2014, the right to request flexible working is available to anyone who meets the eligibility requirements, not just parents and carers.

To be eligible, the person making the application must:

  • be an employee
  • have a minimum of 26 weeks of continuous service with their employer
  • have not made an application for flexible working during the last 12 months.

[infobox]Exclusive bonus:The free Employer’s Definitive Guide to Flexible Working to discover how to stay on the right side of the law when handling flexible working requests. Download Now[/infobox]

Myth 2: I cannot refuse a request for flexible working for a new mother.

Employees have a statutory right to request flexible working, but there is no right to flexible working. This means that new mothers have the right to ask, but they do not have an automatic right to demand that their hours are changed or reduced when they return to work.

Employers must, however, consider the request in a reasonable manner and can only refuse a request for a clear business reason.

When an employer receives an application, you may agree to the request without engaging in a thorough discussion. Alternatively, you can send them a written invitation to a meeting. In the meeting, you can discuss the request, see if there are other working patterns which could be explored and the pros, cons and costs of the change for your business. When you are considering the request, remember to not discriminate unlawfully against the employee.

Once you have made your decision, you must inform the employee promptly and in writing.

If you agree, you should confirm the start date of the change and amend the employee’s contract to cover this change. You will also need to think about the repercussions of the change. For example, if they are now working from home, have you thought about your Health & Safety obligations?

If you want to reject the application, you should make sure it is for one or more of the following business reasons:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • detrimental impact on quality
  • damaging impact on performance
  • negative effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to your business.

There is no statutory right to an appeal, but offering it is a good way to show that you have considered the request in a reasonable way. Unless agreed otherwise, the application should be dealt with, from start to finish, within a period of three months from first receipt. This includes dealing with any appeals.

Myth 3: They can only request permanent changes.

They may request a change for a temporary period. For example, if they are suffering a bereavement, they may ask for a flextime arrangement for a few months.

Myth 4: The employee can make the request orally.

The employee should submit a request in writing and it should be signed and dated.

The employee’s application should:

  • clearly state that it is a request for flexible working
  • say how they meet the eligibility conditions
  • explain what the change they are applying for involves
  • give a date which they would like the change to become effective from
  • give details of what impact, if any, the change will have on the employer
  • state if they have made any applications in the past and if so, when.

Myth 5: Employees can make as many requests as they want. After all, there is no harm in asking!

They can only make one request in a 12 month period. They can ask, but you do not have to consider it.

Myth 6: Flexible working is basically working from home or working part-time.

In fact, it is broader than that.

Eligible employees can request to:

  • change the hours they work e.g. they want to work fewer hours
  • the times they are required to work e.g. they wish to start at 10am rather than 9am)
  • where they work e.g. an employee wants to work from another site on Fridays.

Flexible working could mean job sharing, compressed hours, flexitime, staggered hours or annualised hours.

Myth 7: It is expensive for businesses.

It doesn’t need to be – indeed, it can actually provide savings as you do not have to accommodate staff at the office. Technology means that employees can log in from a remote location to participate in meetings, deliver presentations or hand in work. Often, all it takes is the use of the internet and a computer or hand-held device to get set up and running.

Security breaches can also be costly, but steps can be taken to protect your data, for example, firewalls, anti-virus software, passwords, encryptions, etc.

Myth 8:  If they are not in the workplace, they are not working.

How do you know what they are up to if they are working from home? Are they just sat drinking cups of coffee and watching re-runs of Friends, reading BBC news or doing household chores?

You should not assume that people who are undertaking some form of flexible working are less dedicated or motivated about their job. Studies have shown that it can boost productivity and motivation levels – they are saved the stress of long or costly commutes and the distractions in the office and feel grateful for the better work/life balance.

[infobox]Exclusive bonus:The free Employer’s Definitive Guide to Flexible Working to discover how to stay on the right side of the law when handling flexible working requests. Download Now[/infobox]

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