What is Flexible Working?
Flexible working is a wide term which refers to any kind of non-standard working practices. It might consist of an agreement allowing members of staff to choose their working times around a prescribed set of hours, to work longer hours on most days in return for extra days off, or simply to work away from the office.
Any of your employees with at least 26 weeks of service, and who have not made a flexible working request in the past 12 months, have a statutory right to make a request for flexible working arrangements. Although you don’t have to grant this, you must consider any such request in a “reasonable manner” and must notify them within three months of the request being made. You can only refuse requests on prescribed business grounds, but these are fairly wide.
Types of flexible working
There are various different types of flexible working contracts, including:
Flexi-time - flexibility based around a set number of “core” hours
Part-time - fewer hours than whatever is considered full time in your organisation
Compressed hours – working normal hours over a shorter period of time than is normal in your organisation. For example, employees may work a standard 35-hour week in four days instead of five days and so obtain an extra day off per week
Job-sharing – where a job is split between more than one person
Homeworking - allowing employees who can do their work from a laptop to work from a remote location at certain times
How to deal with flexible working requests
Once you’ve ascertained that a flexible working request has been validly submitted, you should follow a set procedure, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of granting or refusing the request when making a decision. It’s important to have a meeting with the employee unless you automatically grant their request, and you should consider allowing an appeal process. A flexible working policy can be helpful in setting out the rights and responsibilities when it comes to requests.
Implementing agreed changes
You can’t just go ahead and change an employment contract if you decide to allow flexible working. It’s vital that you obtain signed agreement from your employee if you change any terms of their employment contract or set up a new contract.
Pros and cons of flexible working for business
Allowing flexible working amongst your employees can help to attract and retain employees with caring commitments and tech-savvy recruits who are increasingly coming to expect a more flexible working environment. You can also save costs on office space and reduce absence, resignations and stress. However, you need to make sure your team remains cohesive and ensure there is no adverse impact on quality of work or customer service. Also flexible working may place additional pressures on those employees who are not working flexibly.
Legal issues to watch out for
There are various pitfalls you need to avoid when dealing with flexible working requests. It’s crucial that you manage all requests in a non-discriminatory way without regard to protected characteristics (e.g. whether the employee is a parent or not). Also make sure that any new arrangements remain in line with your obligations regarding maximum working hours and minimum wage. Remember that an employee cannot lawfully be dismissed, selected for redundancy, victimised or subjected to any detriment for asserting his or her right to apply for flexible working.
We have a range of documents and letters which are helpful for employers who are dealing with flexible working requests. These can be downloaded from our Employment Documents Folder. Click on the relevant links below for further information.