What should I do when an employee requests flexible working?

Flexible working can take many forms. Whether it’s homeworking, a temporary contract, part time working, flexitime or job sharing, it can encompass a range of ways of working that can make life easier and more productive for your employees.

Although it can seem like an added hassle for limited reward, the benefits of flexible working are vast, and as such a task force has been established to promote this in the UK.

The benefits of flexible working for your business

In January 2019 The Flexible Working Task Force, a partnership across government departments, business groups, trade unions and charities launched a campaign to increase the uptake of flexible working. The task force was established in March 2018 to widen the availability and uptake of flexible working across the workforce.

The task force has highlighted business benefits of flexible working, including:

  • Addressing skill and labour shortages by making work more accessible to older people and those with caring responsibilities, for example
  • Improving productivity by increasing employee motivation
  • Boosting job satisfaction, engagement and well-being, while also helping to reduce sickness absence
  • Helping organisations to retain staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities
  • Creating more diverse workforces which reduces the gender pay gap by giving more opportunities for women to progress into senior roles.

Another study from PWC has shown that when employees are offered the choice to work from home, they are 48% more likely to rate their job satisfaction as 10/10 (Source: http://hrnews.co.uk/why-the-modern-workforce-needs-flexibility/)

The Flexible Working Task Force also stated that “the potential benefits of flexible working are being missed because of unsupportive manager attitudes, limited available options and the negative assumptions of some employees about flexible working, for example that their job may be at risk if they seek to change their working patterns.”

How can employees request flexible working?

It’s important to act quickly when an employee requests flexible working, and to consider not only their request but also the needs of the business. Legally, if an employee makes a request for flexible working, you must consider their request and decide upon it within three months.

Only employees with 26 or more weeks of service have a statutory right to request flexible working.

Acas states that employees must:

  • make their request in writing, state the date the request is made, the change to working conditions they are seeking, and the date they would like the change to take effect
  • state whether they have made a previous application for flexible work and the date of that application
  • what change to working conditions they are seeking and how they think this may affect the business e.g. cost saving to the business
  • if they are making their request in relation to the Equality Act 2010, for example, as a reasonable adjustment for disabled employee.

Once this request is place, you, or their manager, should arrange a meeting to discuss the request and find out what the employee is asking for and why. This must be done as soon as possible as three months deadline to complete this process also includes any appeals. If you are willing to grant the request without needing any discussion then meeting may not be necessary, but it still may be useful to it to ensure that is the best solution for both employer and employee.

There may be many ways to make the request for flexible working work for your business and the employee. For example, if it is only a temporary change that is needed, an agreement may be reached together without having to make permanent changes to the contract of employment.

What if I need to refuse a flexible working request?

You can only refuse a flexible working request if there is a legitimate business reason for doing so, from a list of the following:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural changes to the business.

If you want to consider flexible working for your business and are unsure of the process, contact me today


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