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One of my employees has applied for flexible working, what do I do now?

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The last 12 months has seen the country plunged into lockdowns of varying degrees.  Many employees were forced, with very little notice, to pick up their desks in the office and move them to their dining rooms!

The Office of National Statistics confirmed in April 2020 that 46.6% of people in employment were doing some work at home. 

At the start of the pandemic, working from home was a novelty for most.  Employees gained back valuable hours in commuting and it has been predicted that the former office-based employees in the UK have saved hundreds of pounds on coffees, 'grab and go' lunches and work wear. 

Employees have now had the chance to build a routine around working from home and some individuals have made it clear that after the pandemic, they would like to continue to work from home as it allows them to enjoy a better work-life balance.  It is likely that after the lockdown restrictions are eased and message confirms that it is once again safe to return to work, there is going to be a rise in flexible working requests.

Any employee who has worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks has the legal right to request flexible working.  You, as the Company, are then under an obligation to deal with the request in a 'reasonable manner'.  You should:

  • Assess the advantages and disadvantages of the application;
  • Hold a meeting to discuss the request with the employee.  You should allow to be accompanied to this meeting by a companion; and
  • Offer an appeal process to the outcome to their request.

What kind of flexible working do I have to offer?  

There is a range of ways that a Company can offer flexible working to suit an employee's needs.  Some examples can include:

  • Working from home permanently on a full-time or part-time basis;
  • Job sharing;
  • Compressing hours which allows someone to continue working their usual hours over fewer days;
  • Reducing an individual's hours to part-time;
  • Offering 'flexitime' where an employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits);
  • Changing the place of work.  For example, if an employee would like to move to another office;
  • Offering annualised hours.

What do I need to consider?

You only have to consider a flexible working request from an employee of the Company.  If a request is made by a worker or self-employed contractor, you are not under a legal obligation to consider it.  However, it may be good practice to do this for your workers.

You should look at the benefits to both the Company and the employee if you were to approve the request.  You should meet with the employee and find out if there is a specific reason why the employee is looking to amend their way of working (i.e. childcare).  You should not discriminate against the employee when considering their request. 

You must deal with the request promptly.  A Company must deal with all flexible working requests, including any necessary appeals within 3 months of the request being sent.  However, this can be extended by mutual agreement if required.

What are the legal reasons for me to refuse the flexible working request?

You can only reject a flexible working request for the following reasons:

  • Additional costs that will detrimentally impact the business;
  • The work cannot be reorganised among the other staff members;
  • You are unable to recruit to do the work;
  • Flexible working will damage quality and performance;
  • The Company will be unable to meet customer demand;
  • There is a lack of work to do during the proposed working times;
  • The Company is planning changes to the workforce.

You must take into consideration how the employee has been working, especially over the last 12 months when considering if the proposed flexible working will impact the business.

What are the benefits of considering flexible working?

There are many benefits to both the Employer and Employee for flexible working.  Allowing Employees to be more flexible with their hours may lead to an increase in workforce productivity as well as promoting a better work-life balance for individuals.  Additionally, allowing Employees to work from home may allow the Company to expand their pool of candidates in order to attract the best people for the role.

Contact us

If you have any questions about how you should deal with a flexible working request do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment Law Team on 01522 814638.