With technology increasingly enabling flexible working practices and many employees benefitting from working from home or flexing their hours during the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible working requests are becoming more common. Ranging from employees working from home to altering their start and finish times to reducing their hours, statistics consistently confirm that employees increasingly expect and value flexible working.
Enabling flexible working has been shown to provide significant benefits to employers, reducing absenteeism and stress at work and increasing job satisfaction and in turn staff retention.
Whether dealing with flexible working requests has now become second nature in your organisation, or you are considering your first formal request, it is always useful to refresh yourself as to the process. We’ve set out our top 5 tips for dealing with flexible working requests below.
For formal flexible working requests you must complete the process to consider the employee’s request and provide an outcome within three months of receiving the request, unless the employee otherwise agrees to extend the time.
Whilst three months seems like a long period, this can quickly go by, particularly if the employee is absent from the workplace, for example on maternity leave and it takes time to arrange a convenient time to meet with the employee. Acknowledge flexible working requests promptly and aim to arrange an initial meeting with the employee as soon as possible, to allow plenty of time for you to subsequently consider the request and propose and discuss any alternatives with the employee. The ACAS Code of Practice on flexible working requests provides helpful guidance for employers on best practice.
The right to request flexible working is a right to request, not to be granted flexible working arrangements. Requests can be refused on one of 8 business grounds, for example the burden of additional costs, inability to recruit additional staff or re-organise work amongst existing staff.
It is not enough however to point to a ground without giving any further rationale. Although the right to request flexible working is limited, employees may also be protected on other grounds, for example a refusal to allow a request made by a woman due to childcare commitments may be indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex.
Requests should not be refused on the basis of assumptions that part-time working will not work for the role, or that it would not be possible to recruit to cover remaining hours. Genuine consideration should be given as to whether any initial barriers can be overcome.
Where you are unable to agree the employee’s request, consider whether you can offer an alternative. For example, if the employee wishes to work 3 days a week but you can only accommodate working 4 days a week, propose this option as an alternative for the employee. This helps to increase the chance that you can reach a solution that works for both parties and also assists to demonstrate that you have considered all options.
In a similar vein, if you are unsure whether the employee’s proposal will work in practice, consider offering a trial period. A trial period of any duration can be agreed with the employee and you can then use this time to assess whether the new pattern will work in practice before reaching a final decision. If the pattern does not work, the trial period will provide sufficient evidence of this fact, that you can then rely on in justifying your decision to refuse the request.
If you have agreed a flexible request, remember to document this. Once a flexible working request is agreed it is a permanent change to the employee’s contract. You will need to issue either a new contract of employment or a contract variation letter to the employee confirming the change agreed and any knock on changes, for example a consequential reduction in holiday entitlement where hours are reduced.
For further information in relation to managing flexible working requests and employer’s obligations please contact me.