Accommodating flexible working requests can be challenging.

The nature of the work can mean that workers have different shifts each week, long travel times and unsociable hours.

For all employers, this may be tricky. You may want to accommodate their request but are worried about ensuring that there is sufficient cover at all times to ensure high-quality care. You may also be concerned about how to manage employees who are on different arrangements and the fallout that may occur if you accept some requests but reject others.

Why flexible working needs to be an option

Flexible working arrangements can help you retain your key talent and be highly appealing to job applicants. When employees are not able to balance their professional and home commitments, this can lead to stress and absences. Allowing employees to have a better work-life balance can help reduce this occurring.

Remember that there are many types of flexible working. While some may not be compatible with the nature of care work, such as home working, there are many different options you can consider, for instance, job sharing.

Responding to flexible working requests

If an employee makes a formal request for flexible working, employers must consider the request in a reasonable manner and can only refuse a request for a clear business reason, once a fair process has been followed.

The law does not define what is ‘reasonable’, but handling flexible working requests reasonably includes the following actions:

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

It’s important to note that if you do not deal with a request in a reasonable manner, this can form the basis of an Employment Tribunal claim. If an Employment Tribunal finds that a request was not dealt with in a reasonable manner, the Tribunal may order an employer to reconsider the application and pay up to 8 weeks of capped pay.

When you meet with the employee to discuss the request, you should allow 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 you.

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 as a result of the change, you need to amend the employee’s Contract

When you can say no

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.

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.

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.

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