Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, e.g. having flexible start and finish times, or working from home. All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents or carers, known as ‘making a statutory application’. The only qualifying conditions for employees who wish to make a request is that they must have at least 26 weeks continuous service. Employees can only make one application for flexible working each year.
Your organisation could benefit in a number of ways from promoting a culture of flexible working, including attracting a wider range of candidates for roles, increasing productivity and reducing absence levels.
The basic steps of ‘a statutory application’ are:
1. The employee writing to the employer.
2. The employer considers the request and makes a decision within 3 months – or longer if agreed with the employee.
3. If the employer agrees to the request, they must change the terms and conditions in the employee’s contract.
4. If the employer disagrees, they must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. The employee may be able to complain to an employment tribunal.
As an employer, you must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. This could include:
- Assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application.
- Holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee.
- Offering an appeal process.
If an employee makes a statutory application to work flexibly, you are not obliged to agree to it. There are certain permissible grounds for refusing a request, such as the burden of additional costs or an inability to reorganise work among existing staff or recruit additional staff. If you are unable to agree out-right to an employee’s request, you may be able to agree a compromise.
It should be noted that there are various different types of flexible working:
- Job Sharing- Two people do one job and split the hours
- Working from home- It may be possible to do some or all of the work from home or anywhere else other than the normal place of work.
- Part-time- Working less than full-time hours which usually consists of working fewer days.
Compressed hours- Working full-time over fewer days.
- Flexitime- The employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain core hours, e.g. 11 a.m. to 3p.m.
- Annualised hours- The employee has to work a certain number of hours over the year but they have some flexibility about when they work. There are sometimes ‘core hours’ which the employee regularly works each week, and they work the rest of their hours flexibly or when there’s extra demand at work.
- Staggered hours- The employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers.