Flexible Working

Employment ContractAs of 30 June 2014, if an employee has been employed by an organisation for at least 26 weeks, they have the legal right to request a flexible working arrangement.

Handling the request

Once you have received a request by your employee you must consider it. If you wish to reject the request at that point then no discussion is required. Otherwise, you should arrange a discussion with your employee as soon as possible. This can be either a face-to-face meeting or on the phone, but it should be held in private, specifically in a location where it cannot be overheard by other employees.

The discussion with your employee should allow you to understand what changes they are looking for and how they may potentially help them and the business. Should you wish to accept the request or accept it with conditions then you should discuss these changes with your employee in order to see how and when they should be implemented.

You should allow your employee to be accompanied at the discussion if they wish, this can be a trade union representative or another co-worker, and you should also make this clear to your employee so that they can arrange for their companion to attend. This would help if, for example, your employee has low self-confidence, is disabled or English is not their first language.

The discussion should be held at a date and time which is convenient for you, your employee and any companion they wish to attend. If either you or your employee is not able to make the initial meeting then it should be rescheduled. But, if your employee fails to attend the second meeting, without a reason, you can consider that they have withdrawn their request. But, you should also consider the reasons for the failure in attendance before closing the application and of course you need to inform your employee of your decision.

After the meeting, you must then consider the benefits for your employee and your business and if there are any adverse effects for the business in implementing the requested changes. You have three months to respond to the request, unless an extension is arranged in writing with the approval of your employee.

Deciding on a request

Once you have taken into account the benefits and the impact the changes your employee is requesting will have on your business, you must inform your employee of your decision. You can:

  • approve the request and set a date and any other action
  • confirm a compromise agreed at the discussion
  • reject the request, setting out the business reasons why (see below)

If the request has been accepted then you should inform your employee of the changes to their terms and conditions.

You may also want to consider a ‘trial period’, with review meetings to discuss the changes and make alterations if necessary. You may wish to do this if you are concerned about the sustainability of the business as well as other employees’ requests for flexible working.

Business reasons for rejecting an application 

If you decide to decline your employee’s request then it must be for one of the ‘business reasons’ below:

  • too expensive to implement
  • difficulty to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • difficulty to recruit extra staff
  • negative impact on quality
  • negative effect on performance
  • negative effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • unsatisfactory work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • planned structural change to the business

Handling multiple requests for flexible working

There may be occasions where you will have to handle multiple requests for flexible working. It may be possible for all of them to be approved, but you must carefully consider each request with regards to the impact it may have on the business. As a result the requests need to be dealt with in the order they are received as well as on each of their advantages and the possible impact of refusal of a request on your employee. Accordingly you may want to consider meeting your employees to discuss possible amendments or compromises before reaching a decision in order to reduce the chance of any business problems.

Should the need arise, you may obtain the agreement of your employees concerned to agree to a type of random selection.This refers to a type of selection which is genuinely random, therefore you may use this to allow your employees to have an equal chance of being selected. It is recommended that the way decisions are reached in these cases must be made clear from the start in a flexible working policy (see below).

If you are unable to approve a request because there are already a significant number of employees working flexibly, you may then want to call for volunteers to revert back to their old conditions in order to allow for new requests to work flexibly. 

Right to request policy

You should also develop your own “right to request” policy, in discussion with employees or their trade union representatives, so that requests are handled consistently. Some of the factors the policy should include:

  • how employees make the application, to whom and what should be covered within it
  • statements to the effect that the employer will consider the request and will only reject it for one of the eight business reasons stated below
  • who may accompany the employee at any meeting regarding the request
  • what arrangements exist for appeals
  • the time limits on dealing with requests

More info

Acas have produced a Draft Code of Practice (PDF) on handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly.

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