Whistle-stop tour of flexible working requests

Friday 18th June 2021

With the end of the instruction to work from home where possible in sight, employers are expecting to see an increase in flexible working requests from their employees.

As these are made under statute, employers have an obligation to deal with them in a certain way.

Do you know how to handle flexible working requests?

What is a flexible working request?

Any employee with over 26 weeks’ service has the right to make a written request for flexible working to their employer.

The request can include asking for changes to:

  • The hours they work;
  • The times they work; or
  • The place they work.

What are our obligations as an employer?

Once you receive a valid flexible working request, you must provide an outcome within 3 months. You must also deal with it in a reasonable manner; so you should not unreasonably delay.

You should invite the employee to a meeting to discuss their request as soon as possible (unless you intend to approve the request, in which case this is not necessary).

Your decision should be provided in writing and, if the request is refused, your reasoning given.

Be warned: an employee can make a claim to the Employment Tribunal if their request isn’t dealt with properly. The maximum award is 8 weeks’ pay.

You must also make sure that you do not handle flexible working requests in a discriminatory manner. For example, approving requests from women on the basis that they have childcare requirements,  but refusing the same requests from men, would be direct sex discrimination.

Can we refuse a flexible working request?

Yes, you can refuse if one of the following reasons would apply:

  1. The burden of additional costs;
  2. Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
  3. Inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
  4. Inability to recruit additional staff;
  5. Detrimental impact on quality;
  6. Detrimental impact on performance;
  7. Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or
  8. Planned structural changes.

If none of these reasons apply, you must approve the request.

What happens next?

If a flexible working arrangement is agreed, you should formally vary the terms of the employee’s contract of employment. The easiest way is likely to be a side letter setting out the changes, signed by the employee. This must be provided to the employee within 1 month of the changes taking effect.

If the flexible working request is refused, then the employee should be given the right to appeal.

Either way, the employee will not have a statutory right to make another request for the next 12 months.

If you would like to discuss this further, then please contact one of our employment experts below. To view the full June Employment Law Update, click here: