As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the way we work and live has been forever changed. Many people have enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, including avoiding a commute, setting their own hours and taking care of their children.
Employers can expect to see more employees requesting new and flexible working patterns when we ‘return to normal’, so in this article, we look at some of the most common questions around flexible working.
Who can request flexible working?
Employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service are normally entitled to request flexible working, regardless of whether they work full-time or part-time. However, if an employee has already made a flexible working request, they cannot make another request for 12 months.
Furthermore, workers (that is, anyone who is not an employee) cannot request to work flexibly. For example, agency workers, self-employed contractors, consultants, and company directors will be excluded if they do not have a contract of employment.
In what ways can an employee work flexibly?
The term flexible working covers several ways of working. Employees may ask for changes to working hours, their work location (such as working from home), or the times they work.
Is there a process that must be followed to request flexible working?
There is no specific procedure, but employers must consider any request for flexible working in a ‘reasonable manner’. Unless otherwise agreed by the employee, the employer must reach a decision about a flexible working request within three months.
Does an employer have to allow employees to work flexibly?
In short, no – but they must consider any request to work flexibly in a reasonable way. An employer may only refuse a request for flexible working for a specific business reason; these are set out in legislation as:
• Unacceptable additional costs.
• An inability to recruit additional staff.
• A negative impact on quality of work.
• An inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
• A negative impact on the ability to meet customer demand.
• A negative impact on the performance of the employee, the team or the whole business.
• Insufficient work available to do during the periods the employee proposes to work.
• Structural changes to the business that have already been planned that would not fit with the employee’s proposal.
Furthermore, recent tribunal decisions have highlighted that it is not unreasonable to put the interests of the business before the interests of an employee when making a decision about a flexible working request.
Can an employer allow some employees to work flexibly but not others?
Each flexible working request must be considered on its own merits, meaning that some requests may be approved, and some denied. You can decline a flexible working request where there is good business reason for doing so, including that too many employees are working flexibly at the same time. For example, if several employees from one department request to work from home at the same time, there may be no one around to cover certain tasks during business hours.
However, it may be better to discuss such conflicts with employees rather than to refuse the request. For example, suggest different working patterns or taking turns to ensure the business can run smoothly while accommodating flexible working patterns.
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