Flexible working: HR guide
Employees are not automatically entitled to flexible working unless the flexible arrangement forms part of their contract.
Employees may, subject to having sufficient continuous employment, make a request for flexible working under the statutory procedure, but employers can turn down requests for permitted business reasons.
When the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 comes into force there will be some changes to the current position.
Eligibility to make a request for flexible working under the statutory procedure
Employees must have twenty six weeks’ continuous service with the employer to be eligible.
Employees can only make one request in any twelve month period. However, when the new law comes into effect employees will be able to make two requests in any twelve month period.
What type of change can be requested?
The change may relate to:
- the hours worked.
- the times when required to work.
- the place of work.
This could include a variety of flexible arrangements such as job-sharing, home-working, reduced hours, annualised hours and term-working (with longer holiday periods).
Making a request for flexible working
In order to make a request for flexible working under the statutory procedure the employee must:
- make their request in writing.
- date the application.
- state that the application is being made under the statutory procedure.
- state the change to the working conditions they are seeking and when they wish the change to take effect.
- explain any effect the proposed change could have on the business and how this effect could be overcome (though this requirement will no longer apply when the new law comes into effect).
- state whether they have made a previous application under the procedure and the date of any previous application.
How must employers handle requests?
Employers must deal with requests in a reasonable manner. There is no specific statutory definition of what constitutes a reasonable manner – but Acas suggests in its Code of Practice and Guide how employers should handle requests. Acas recommends that employers should discuss the request for flexible working with the employee as soon as possible (preferably in a private place) and allow the employee to be accompanied by a work colleague for any discussion (and any appeal). Employers should consider the request carefully by looking at the benefits of the requested changes in working conditions for the employee and weighing these against any adverse business impact of implementing the changes. Employers should also inform the employee of the decision as soon as possible in writing and if the request is rejected allow an appeal.
When the new law comes into effect the employer will not be permitted to refuse a request unless the employee has been consulted.
The process must be completed within three months (including any appeal decision), but when the new law comes into effect the time period will be reduced to two months. The parties may agree a longer period.
An employer can only refuse a request for flexible working for one or more of these business reasons:
- the burden of additional costs.
- an inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
- an inability to recruit additional staff.
- a detrimental impact on quality.
- a detrimental impact on performance.
- a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
- insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work.
- a planned structural change to the business.
Remedies under the statutory procedure
The employer failed to deal with their application in a reasonable manner.
The employer failed to notify the person of the decision within the decision period.
The employer rejected the application for a reason other than one of the statutory grounds (see above).
The employer’s decision to reject the application was based on incorrect facts.
- The employer treated the application as withdrawn but was not permitted to do so. (The two permitted circumstances are a) when the employee, without good reason, has failed to attend a meeting arranged by the employer to discuss the employee’s request and the second meeting arranged for that purpose; and b) when the employer has allowed the employee to appeal against the rejection of their request, or to make a further appeal, and the employee, without good reason, fails to attend a meeting arranged by the employer to discuss the employee’s appeal and the second meeting arranged for that purpose).
An order for reconsideration of the request.
- A compensation award up to a maximum amount of eight weeks’ pay.
Informal requests for flexible working and other potential claims
There is nothing to preclude employees from making informal flexible working requests and no minimum length of service is required.
Employees who make requests, whether under the statutory scheme or on an informal basis, could have other potential claims such as for discrimination.
Where, for example, an employer has a policy not to allow employees to work part-time hours, this could be indirectly discriminatory on the basis that the policy of not allowing staff to work part-time disadvantages women as more women than men have child caring responsibilities.
Offering flexible working makes good business sense
Irrespective of the law, employers should encourage flexible working wherever possible. Advertising jobs to suit people’s needs and instilling a culture of flexibility allows employers to attract and retain top employees that otherwise they could miss out on or lose to a more flexible competitor.
This guide is intended for guidance only and should not be relied upon for specific advice.