The legal bit
Most employees with more than 26 weeks service have the legal right to request flexible working. However, they can only make one request in any rolling 12-month period.
It is best practice for a business to have a flexible working policy and a flexible working application form. Employers legally have three months from receipt of request to complete the process, however this must include time for any appeal.
An employee must make their request in writing. In their application, they must provide the date of their request, what change they would like to make and when they would like it to take effect from. They should also include details of any previous applications they have made.
Once the request has been received, the employer should book a meeting with the employee to discuss their application. Whilst, this is not a legal requirement, it is encouraged as best practice. However, if the employer is willing to accept the request in full without the need for further information, then a meeting may not be necessary. Again, whilst not a statutory requirement, it is also best practice to allow the individual to be accompanied at the meeting. The meeting will provide the opportunity to discuss the request in more detail and if necessary, to discuss alternatives or a compromise. An employee does not need to provide a reason for their request. As an employer, you can ask the employee how they think their proposed flexible arrangement will work in practice and to provide potential solutions for any problems identified.
The employer should not delay in providing an outcome after the meeting. They should reasonably consider the request and only refuse if they have a genuine business reason for doing so. This genuine business reason needs to be one or more of the following:
- the burden of additional costs
- an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
- an inability to recruit additional staff
- a detrimental impact on quality
- a detrimental impact on performance
- a detrimental effect on the business’s ability to meet customer demand
- insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
- a planned structural change to the business
The outcome of the request should always be confirmed in writing. If the employer rejects the request, they should write to the employee outlining the reasons why. The letter must include a right to appeal.
If the employer wishes to accept the request, they should write to the employee confirming this. Any changes are a permanent variation to the employee’s contract and both the employer and the employee must sign either a copy of the letter accepting the changes or an addendum to the employee’s contract.
An employer may wish to grant the request on a temporary basis to see how it works in practice and if it is sustainable for the business. In this case, a trial period can be put in place and a letter confirming the details of this trial period should be provided to the employee. At the end of the trial period, the change will either become a permanent variation to their contract, or they will revert back to their previous working pattern.
Employees with less than 26 weeks service do not have a statutory right to request flexible working, however, some employers may allow all staff to make a request. If an employee wishes to make a temporary change to their working pattern, the flexible working process should not be used.
In this week’s blog, our HR advisor Megan Power shares her experience on handling flexible working requests.
Megan provides our clients with support for all day to day HR issues both on and off site.