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Working 8 'til 4? - New survey shows UK workers want change to working hours

View profile for Philip Richardson
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Employment law update 2018: employment tribunal

A national poll by YouGov has found that two thirds of UK workers would prefer their day to start and finish earlier than the traditional 9 to 5.

The most popular choice was an 8am to 4pm day - which was selected by 25 per cent of those polled. Meanwhile, 13 per cent of people wanted an 8:30am until 4:30pm while only 10 per cent favoured a 7am to 3pm start.

However, the trend shifted for those living in London and those in their late teens and early twenties, who were statistically more likely to prefer a later start, possibly to avoid the traditional 'rush hour' crush on the capital's transport network.

The study has sparked a debate on flexible working hours and to what extent employers should accommodate those who wish to work outside of the 9 to 5 norm, whether it is because of child care arrangements, a difficult commute or purely down to personal preference.

Since 2014, all employees have the right to request flexible working. This was introduced under an initiative designed to recognise the growing importance of flexible working – both for employees and employers.

The right to flexible working was once only reserved for those with dependents. Only those with a child under the age of 17 – or 16 if the child had a disability – or certain types of carers could apply. Under the 2014 legislation, anyone can request flexible working, so long as they have at least 26 weeks of service with the company.

However, an employer is not required to grant all requests. The law only protects the employee’s right to ask for flexible working and specifies that such requests should be dealt with in a reasonable manner.

So what constitutes this reasonableness?

In practice, the employer must give the same consideration to all employee requests. They should also clearly set out, in writing, how an employee should issue a request and what supplementary information should be included.

For the employee, any request should meet the following criteria:

  • The request must be in writing
  • The request must clearly state the employee’s intention – ie: to request flexible working
  • The request must be dates
  • The request must explain the proposed commencement date for flexible working and what arrangements the employee is seeking
  • The request should identify any effects that the arrangement might have and how the employee would address these
  • The request should confirm that the employee has not made a prior flexible working request in the past 12 months

Likewise, employers should put processes in place to deal with such requests as efficiently as possible to ensure that they fall within the ‘reasonable’ consideration:

  • Deal with the request within three months, unless otherwise agreed with the employee
  • Handle each request consistently, demonstrating serious consideration in each case
  • If a request cannot be met, offer a compromise
  • Maintain records which demonstrate why a request was granted or refused and keep notes of any meetings
  • Allow employees to be accompanied by a colleague at any meetings to discuss the request
  • Ensure transparency by setting out all decisions, at every stage, in writing

In denying a request, employers must be careful to make sure that any reasons for doing so match those set out in the 2014 legislation. Legitimate reasons for denying flexible working requests include:

  • The arrangement would create an additional cost which would damage the business
  • The work load could not be reorganised among other staff
  • It would not be possible to recruit new staff to do the work
  • The arrangement would affect quality and performance
  • The arrangement would mean the business would be unable to meet customer demand
  • The working times proposed in the arrangement would mean there was a lack of work for the employee to do
  • The business is already planning changes to the workforce

In addition to the above considerations, it is also important to remember that a decision to grant or not grant flexible working cannot be discriminatory. As such, an employer should be mindful of ‘protected characteristics’, such as race, sex or age.

For further guidance on best practice in dealing with flexible working requests, or if you believe that you have been unfairly denied flexible working by your employer, Stephensons’ specialist HR and employment lawyers can help.

Call us on 01616 966 229 or complete our online enquiry form.