As working practices begin to transcend the standard 9 to 5, flexible working is having a real impact on the way employers have to manage their business. But changing to flexible working means more than just moving staff to a pattern of work that is more fluid, it means changing a long-standing working culture which can pose a number of challenges to employers, both from a legal and working perspective.
But what exactly is a flexible working request and what are the UK laws that employers need to know about?
Read on to find out.
What is flexible working?
Although it is an umbrella term that encompasses a broad spectrum of working conditions, ‘flexible working‘ involves any alteration of hours to suit the needs of an employee rather than those of the business. This can range from working shorter hours each day to condensing weekly contracted hours into fewer days.
Who can submit a flexible working request?
In 2014 the limitations of who can apply for flexible working requests were lifted and a much wider range of employees now qualify. In the modern workplace, nearly every employee has a right to apply for flexible working.
Are there different types of flexible working?
Flexible working isn’t one way of doing things, and as an employer, there are numerous changes to the standard working week that can be implemented to satisfy an employee’s flexible working request. Here are a few of the different ways that flexible working can be achieved.
Part-time work is where staff work fewer hours than a full-time employee. Although there isn’t legal guidance for how many weekly hours a part-time member of staff should complete, it’s generally considered to be fewer than 35. These hours can be on any day and at any time providing flexibility for employers and employees.
In order to help staff work around family commitments, an employer may decide to allow a certain level of flexibility over start and finish times. Flexitime demands that staff are in the office for a core period of the day, but start and finish times are decided by the employee. This can provide employees the flexibility to cover other commitments.
c. Job share
In some circumstances, it may make sense to share the responsibility of one job amongst two or more people. This is known as job-sharing and involves dividing hours between multiple staff, who will then carry out the same role. This can allow the staff members who share the role to split the hours to suit their needs.
d. Compressed hours
If employees think that an extra day off would equate to a better work/life balance, then it could make sense to introduce something called compressed hours. This is where an employee will work the same number of weekly hours, but in a shorter amount of time. Instead of working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, staff may work 10 hours a day, but for 4 days a week.
Who qualifies for making a flexible working request?
Providing that an employee has been with the company for at least 26 weeks, the law states that almost everyone is entitled to request flexible working hours.
There are very few staff members that have no legal right to make a request. Here are a few that can’t:
- Agency staff
- Company directors
- Anyone who isn’t considered an ’employee’
What is the process for making a flexible working request?
If staff want to request flexible working hours, they must submit a request to their manager in writing (or via email). At this stage it is often good practice to have a meeting with the employee to discuss the details of the request.
Once a request has been received, the business is legally obliged to come to a decision within three months. This also includes appeals. If the request is accepted, the employee’s contract should be amended. If the request is declined, the employee should be made aware in writing.
You can only reject an employee’s request for flexible working if you have a sound reason. The cause for rejection must come from the following list:
- The burden of additional costs that the flexible working request will place on the business.
- An inability to reorganize work amongst existing staff.
- An inability to recruit additional staff to cover the request.
- The request may have a detrimental impact on the quality of work in the business.
- The request may have a detrimental impact on performance.
- Insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work.
- A currently planned structural change to the business.
Can an employee appeal a rejection?
Although there is no legal right for employees to appeal a rejection, it’s wise for an employer to offer an appeals process. This will prove that the company has reasonably considered the application. Any appeal must be carried out according to workplace dispute procedures.
Staff can make a complaint to an employment tribunal if they think a business has mishandled their flexible working request. But remember, complaints can’t be made simply because the request was rejected.
Advice for employers in dealing with flexible working requests?
Although there is no fool-proof strategy to implementing flexible working, there are a few tips that employers might want to consider:
a. Consider every request fairly
Businesses have to consider each application fairly and can’t simply reject a request without a justified reason. Instances where you say ‘no’ without being clear as to why, could be misconstrued as discrimination.
b. Think beyond Yes or No
While you might think that a request for flexible working ultimately comes down to a clear yes or no, you might want to see it more as a negotiation. Just because you’re not able to grant the precise request of an employee, doesn’t mean that you can’t suggest an alternative that benefits both parties.
c. Have a clear application process and flexible working request form
Make sure that you document the way that your business will deal with flexible working requests and have a specific structure and form for employees to apply. This will save time and prevent claims that the process is difficult or deliberately hidden from staff.
d. Have a trial period
If you have any reservations about accepting a flexible working request, look to implement a trial period. This experimental phase will enable you to witness first hand the pros and cons of introducing flexible working to your business.
Flexible working may or may not be right for your business, but if you’re thinking about implementing a new timetable for employees, it’s important to know the laws surrounding the issue. Check Papershift’s timesheet software and staff leave planner software to automate such cases and be on the right side of the law.
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