How to handle flexible working requests

With the school summer holiday nearly over and lots of children starting a new school, employers may find an increase in flexible working requests. These might be new requests or requests to vary existing arrangements.

So how should you handle them? And do you have to agree to them?

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is any working pattern other than the normal working pattern required for that role. There are many forms of flexible working: a change to the hours, times or days an employee works, job sharing, shift working or even homeworking.

Although a flexible working request may suit the employees’ need, it has to also suit the business needs.  However, flexible working can benefit both parties.

Key Points

  • Requests must be made in writing, stating the date of the request.
  • If an employee has already made a request (whether accepted or rejected), they are not entitled to make another request until 12 months later.
  • Employers do not have to agree to the request but must have a sound business reason for rejecting it.  The reason(s) must be from the following list:
    • the burden of additional costs 
    • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff 
    • an inability to recruit additional staff 
    • a detrimental impact on quality
    • a detrimental impact on performance 
    • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand 
    • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work 
    • a planned structural changes to the business.

Making a request

  • Employees must have worked for you for at least 26 weeks to have the statutory right to request flexible working. However, you can extend the right to all staff if you wish, regardless of length of service.
  • All employees can make a request – not just parents and carers.
  • Requests should state the change required, the date they wish the change to be made and how they think this may affect the business e.g. cost saving to the business, benefit/value to the business.
  • Employees must state if they are making their request in relation to the Equality Act 2010, for example, as a reasonable adjustment for a disability.

As an employer, you have a duty to consider the request although not necessarily to agree to the request.

Although it is not a legal requirement and not always necessary where a request is granted, as good practice you should hold a meeting with the employee to discuss their request. The old rules required you to hold a meeting within 28 days – these have now been removed and you have more flexibility of when to hold the meeting.

However, the law requires the process to be concluded within three months, this includes any appeal process.

Any request that is accepted will make a permanent change to the employment contract, therefore it is advisable to inform of your decision in writing and ask the employee to sign as agreement to the change.

If you need any advice, Hill HR are happy to help.

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