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How to deal with flexible working requests

From 30th June 2014 the flexible working regulations will be extended to cover all employees after 26 weeks' service, rather than only those with children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) and certain carers, who are covered by the existing legislation.

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While as an employer you do not have to agree to a flexible working request, you do have a legal obligation to consider it.

The challenge for businesses

Recent statistics from the Office of National Statistics show that 78% of people with dependent children are in employment (ONS 2012) and 1 in 7 employees also has the responsibility to care for a family member. This makes the chances of hiring someone wrestling with home life commitments quite high.

Here are some tips on how to handle requests for flexible working in an appropriate manner. Forum members can also call our business helpline on 0845 130 1722 for more in-depth advice.

Be clear on what it means 

All employees have the right to ask their employer to consider changes to their contract terms and conditions to allow them to work flexibly, provided they have worked there for more than 26 weeks at the time they put in the request. Only one request can be made by the employee in any 12 month period. 

Set up a clear policy

If not included already employers should consider setting up a policy on how requests for flexible working will be handled. 

Key elements to include in a policy include:

  • How employees should apply and who the application should be made to 
  • How requests for flexible working will be reviewed and when
  • That the employee can be accompanied by a union representative or colleague to a meeting regarding the request 
  • How they can appeal a decision.

You may decide a written policy is not necessary, but you should ensure that all your employees know how to apply and what steps they must follow.

Ensure that all employees make the request in writing

All requests must be made in writing and you should provide guidance on what to include. It is important that employees also understand, that once agreed, the employer is under no obligation to have to consider further requests for changes for 12 months. They can make an additional request but don't have a legal right to.

Make sure you handle the request with care! 

As soon as you’ve received a request it’s best to arrange to meet to discuss this with the employee as soon as possible, as the law requires that any flexible working requests are dealt with in a timely manner. The whole process should usually be completed within 3 months of receiving the initial requests including an appeal, but can be extended if agreed by both parties.

Consider carefully before making your decision

Weigh up the benefits of the changes for the employee and the business vs. any adverse affects the changes may have on the business.

You’re under no legal obligation to grant a request for flexible working if it cannot be accommodated on the following grounds:

  • Unacceptable costs to the organisation
  • Workload among existing staff 
  • Impact on quality and performance
  • Lack of work when the employee proposes to work
  • Request doesn't fit into future plans. 

Be flexible and fair

You may find that you have to deal with more than one request for flexible working. It is essential you deal with each of these fairly.

Requests should be dealt with in the order that they come in. If you receive more than one request, you are not required by law to make a value judgement as to which of the requests is more deserving. Each case should be assessed on its merits based on the business case.

An employee has the right to appeal

An employee should have the opportunity to discuss the refusal to grant their request, if there is new information that was not available at the time of the initial decision, or if the employee feels their request wasn’t handled reasonably in line with the employer’s policy. 

Always get advice

As with all employment issues, we advise you seek insured legal advice before taking action. Forum members are reminded to call our business advice team on 0845 130 1722 for further assistance, to ensure your business remains protected.