Latest Blog Posts

Steps to Handling Flexible Working Requests

HR Magazine has recently reported on recent surveys that found that 60% of HR leaders thought that there will be more remote working in the future, and that 95% of workers favour a return to the office following development of a coronavirus vaccine, but desire greater flexibility in working hours.

When the current period of concern passes (hopefully sooner than later), it may be that employees who have become used to additional flexibility will submit a flexible working request to make their current flexible arrangements permanent.  Employees may submit requests for various forms of flexible working, such as reduced or condensed working hours and job shares, as well as working from home.  What are the steps that employers should follow in response?

1.Check if the employee is eligible.  Statutorily, only employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service are entitled to apply, but you may decide to accept requests for those who have worked for you for less time.  However, if you are going to do so, this should be applied consistently, and not just for some.  Please note that previously legislation restricted the right to apply for flexible working to those with childcare responsibilities, but this limitation no longer applies.

2. Get the employee to set out their request in writing, if they haven’t already.  Some employees only have a vague notion of what they want flexible working to look like, and the process of setting it out in writing can be helpful to clarify what they want.  This should include:

  • The date;
  • A statement that this is a statutory request;
  • Details of how the employee wants to work flexibly and when they want to start;
  • An explanation of how they think flexible working might affect the business and how this could be dealt with, for example if they’re not at work on certain days;
  • A statement saying if and when they’ve made a previous application.

Please note that employees are only statutorily entitled to submit one request per year, and it is best to inform them of this.

3. You should then consider the request and make a decision within three months (it can be longer, but only if agreed with the employee).  This should be undertaken in a “reasonable manner” which includes considering potential advantages and disadvantages, and potentially holding a meeting to discuss the application.  Employers should try to keep an open mind, and not assume that because a job has always been undertaken in a certain way (e.g. full-time in the office) then it must be in future.

4. You may decide to agree or reject the application.  If you are unsure, you may also propose a trial period, or discuss alternative options with the employee.  If you decide to accept the application, you should write to the employee confirming this and the start date for the changes, within 28 days.  You will also need to change the employee’s contract (in most cases a variation letter will suffice).  If you decide to reject the application, you must set out the business reason for this.  Reasons may include:

  • Extra costs that will damage the business;
  • The work cannot be reorganised among other staff;
  • People cannot be recruited to do the work;
  • Flexible working will affect quality and performance;
  • The business will not be able to meet customer demand;
  • A lack of work to do during the proposed working times;
  • The business is planning changes to the workforce.

5. Employees do not have a statutory right to an appeal, however, offering an appeals process helps to demonstrate that the employer is handling requests in a reasonable manner.

If you are an employer and would like to discuss a flexible working request received from an employee, please contact a member of the View HR team.  Our next blog will look at the health and safety implications of working from home on an ongoing or regular basis, and so please check back soon.