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Handling Requests Post-lockdown

June 2020

Employees have had the right to request flexible working for many years but widespread experience of remote working on an ad hoc basis during the lockdown may prompt employees to seek a permanent move to home working after the coronavirus pandemic passes. How should employers respond to such requests?

Since 2014, all employees in the UK with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service have had the right to request flexible working for any reason. A flexible working request can be a request for part time work, a job share, annualised hours, term-time working, home working or any other flexible working arrangement.

Employers are required to consider flexible working requests in a “reasonable manner” and may only refuse them on one of the prescribed eight grounds, because:

  • the proposed flexible working arrangement will cost too much;
  • the employer cannot reorganise the work among other staff;
  • the employer cannot recruit more staff;
  • there will be a negative effect on quality;
  • there will be a negative effect on the employer's ability to meet customer demand;
  • there will be a negative effect on performance;
  • there is not enough work or the employee to do when he or she has returned to work; or
  • there are planned changes to the business, e.g. the employer plans to recognise or change the business and thinks the request will not sit with these plans.

There is no automatic right for employees to work flexibly but employers must take care in dealing with such requests because an unjustified refusal of a flexible working request could lead to claims for sex or disability discrimination and/or unfair constructive dismissal.

Although it was relatively easy for employers to reject a flexible working request in the recent past, many employers have found new and effective ways of working remotely during the coronavirus lockdown and have, in many cases, shown that it is possible to maintain business continuity and good client service with a virtual workforce. This makes it particularly important for employers to:

  • behave fairly and consistently in handling flexible working requests;
  • give proper consideration to all flexible working requests; and
  • ensure that the reason(s) for rejecting a flexible working request are properly documented.

Simply-docs has a suite of documents that will guide employers through the process of handling flexible working requests. There will be additions to the flexible working and home working documents over the upcoming weeks.

The contents of this Newsletter are for reference purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Independent legal advice should be sought in relation to any specific legal matter.

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