How to handle flexible working requests

Dealing with employees’ requests for flexible working does not have to be as cumbersome as you think.

The truth is that the law does not give employees a right to flexible working. Employees with 26 continuous weeks of service with their employer have a statutory right to request flexible working. They can only make one statutory request per 12 month period.

When an employer receives an application which meets all the qualifying requirements, employers must consider the request in a reasonable manner and in a timely fashion and can only refuse a request for a stated business reason.

[infobox] Exclusive bonus: Get the Definitive Employer’s Guide to Flexible Working to get insider HR tips on how to stay compliant when managing this area.Download Now[/infobox]

Reasonable manner

The law does not define what is “reasonable”, but examples of handling flexible working requests reasonably include:

  • Meeting with the employee to discuss it
  • Offering them to be accompanied to the meeting
  • Giving them the opportunity to appeal.

In some cases, you may readily agree to the change without engaging in a thorough discussion.

Or you may wish to arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss the request, allowing them to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative. In the meeting, you can discuss the change, whether there are any issues in accommodating the request, if there are other working patterns which could be explored and the advantages, disadvantages and costs of the change for the organisation.

When you are in the process of considering the request, it is important to not discriminate unlawfully against the employee.

Timely fashion

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.

Agreeing to the change

If you do agree to the change, you should write to the employee to confirm the change and state the start date of the change.

You will need to think about whether you need to amend the employee’s Contract of Employment to cover this change. This should be done within 28 days after the request was approved.

It is also important to consider the implications of the change, for example, if they are working from home, you will need to think about your health and safety obligations, how they will be able to access resources, what equipment they will need, etc.

If you are in doubt, you can offer them a temporary trial. This will allow you to see if it works in practice and if it can be a sustainable way of working.

Refusing flexible working

 You can reject an application 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

You should explain the reasons for the refusal in writing.

Appeals

Although there is no statutory right to an appeal, offering it is a good way to show that you have considered the request in a reasonable way.

Want to find out more?

[infobox]To find out more about this topic, we have created the free Definitive Employer’s Guide to Flexible Working, which gives you an overview of the content of a good flexible working policy, what requests should include and what mistakes could mean you end up in an Employment Tribunal.Download Now[/infobox]

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