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Practical tips for employers when responding to a flexible working request

View profile for Stephen Woodhouse
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Employment law update 2018: employment tribunal

In April the law surrounding flexible working changed, one of the main changes being that employees are able to request flexible working arrangements from the beginning of their employment. The way in which employers must deal with such requests also changed. Here we have put together some practical tips to consider when responding to a flexible working request from an employee:

1. Respond promptly

Flexible working requests, including any associated appeal, must be completed within two months. Responding to requests as quickly as managers can helps maintain engagement and motivation.

2. Statutory request

Ensure any request made by an employee clearly states it is a ‘statutory request for flexible working’ and is dated, including the proposed change and date of change and whether there has been a previous request for flexible working (there should only be one ‘live’ request for flexible working at any one time, however employees can now make up to two requests in a 12 month period).

To assist with the process, you should consider providing staff with a template form to complete.

3. Withdrawing an application

Employees should tell you in writing if they want to withdraw their application. You can treat an application as withdrawn if the employee misses two meetings to discuss an application or appeal without good reason (e.g. sickness).

You must tell the employee you are treating the request as withdrawn.

4. Considering the request

Flexible working requests should be dealt with fairly and reasonably and managers are required to consider other options if they cannot accommodate the preferred change. Managers should be encouraged to treat a flexible working request as a dialogue rather than a yes/no decision.

Employers can reject an application for any of the following reasons:

  • Extra costs that will damage the business
  • The work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • People cannot be recruited to do the work
  • Flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • The business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • There is a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • The business is planning changes to the workforce

5. Meet with the employee

A flexible working request cannot be rejected without first consulting with the employee – all relevant information must be understood and considered by both parties before a decision is made.

6. Reaching a decision

It is important that you inform the employee of your decision in writing, setting out clearly what has been decided and why.

Where you agree a flexible working request, it will often result in a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment.

7. Appeal

Employees no longer have a statutory right to an appeal, however you may have a policy in place which offers an appeal process. This may not be true of a trial period or there is an informal agreement in place (e.g. hybrid working where employees can informally work remotely at the discretion of their manager).

It is therefore important you are clear in your policies and communications with the employee whether flexible working arrangements are contractual or informal and any circumstances in which they could be changed.

Permanent changes agreed as part of a flexible working request should be confirmed in writing to the employee.

8. Trial periods

Trial periods provide an opportunity to test the feasibility of flexible working, particularly where roles have not been undertaken in a flexible way previously. Such periods should be for a set period of time and their outcomes measured and assessed. Unless it is clear the request in question cannot be accommodated, a trial period should always be considered as an option.

9. Train managers

Ensure managers are provided with guidance on managing flexible working requests, including assessing roles for flexible suitability where they have not been worked flexibly before.

10. Recruitment/retention

Prospective candidates, and existing members of staff, are increasingly interested in flexible working opportunities. You can make the most of this by proactively providing information on your organisation’s flexible working opportunities.

Our specialist employment law team offer advice to businesses on a full range of HR issues and offer fixed fee HR support packages. To speak with one of our advisor call us today on 0161 696 6170