Things you should know about Flexible Working Requests

17 February 2021

Flexible Working for Employees

Did you know that under the Flexible Working Regulations, employees may be able to submit a flexible working request’ to their employer for any of the following desired reasons:

  • Reducing hours worked
  • Changing their start and finish time or work Flexitime
  • Compressing their hours into shorter periods
  • Working from home or elsewhere (‘remote working’)
  • A job share
  • The request can be made permanently, temporarily, or in respect of certain periods.

In this week's blog, we explore some key questions and areas surrounding the term "flexible working" and what it means for the employer and employee:

    • What does flexible hours mean?
    • The Flexible Working regulations
    • How you can reduce your hours at work
    • What are the Part-time worker’s rights
    • Reducing your hours at work due to childcare
    • What your flexible working request letter must contain
    • How to make a successful flexible working request

    An Employee's Entitlement to Make a Request

    Employees can submit a request for flexible working if they satisfy the required conditions, namely:

    continuous employment for at least 26 weeks
    they are employees rather than other types of worker such as agency temps/contractors etc 
    they have not submitted a previous flexible working request in the last 12 months.

    Once received by the Employer, the request must be looked at fairly – following the Acas Code of practise on flexible working requests, and a decision made within 3 months of its receipt. All employees who qualify have the right to make this request.

    Some businesses will adopt other policies which may accommodate the essence of the request e.g. shared parental leave, bereavement, day care policy etc.

    The Flexible Working Request Procedure 

    The request must be in writing and be clearly marked that it is in fact a ‘statutory flexible working request’. 

    The letter must have the following ingredients:

    • the date it is sent
    • the suggested change and when from
    • a suggestion as to how the business can cope with or manage the requested change
    • the date of any previous flexible working requests
    • any ‘reasonable adjustments’ if the request involves anything related to the Equality Act 2010 i.e. to cater for any disability, or under the Equal Opportunity Policy.

    Any other relevant useful information can be added that might be relevant if it helps the employee or the business e.g. willing to work on Sundays when most people would prefer not to.

    Discussing the Request

    Ideally, the employer should arrange a meeting to discuss the request. This can be a video meeting in the current pandemic. The meeting should cover the reasons for the request, the problems that may arise and how they can be overcome, and any alternatives if the original request simply is not going to work. The employee can ask to bring someone to the meeting (colleague or Trade Union Rep) but there is no legal right to this.

    Decision Time

    The decision should be given in writing for the sake of clarity and it should be given to the employee as soon as reasonably practical. In any event, it must be given within 3 months of the meeting.

    If the request is approved, there might be a side letter or new contract of employment confirming the position. This should include the agreed change, when the change will start, how long the change will last (if for a fixed period of time), and it is always a good idea to have a review date to ensure that the change is working properly.

    When Changes Must be in Writing by Law

    If the change affects anything that must legally be in an employee’s contract of employment, the employer must put it in writing within a month of the change taking effect.

    This includes changes to the following: 

    • working hours 
    • pay
    • job location 
    • holiday entitlement.

    Unsuccessful Requests 

    The employer does not have to agree to the request and can refuse if there is a valid business reason for doing so.

    The employer can legally turn down the flexible working request if:

    • it will cost too much
    • work requirements cannot be reorganised
    • more staff cannot be recruited
    • there are already planned changes to the business which might be inconsistent with the request
    • it will leave insufficient work to be done by the employee
      • there will be a negative effect on performance
        • there will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
          • there will be a negative effect on quality.

            Can an Employee Appeal?

            Appeals should be made as soon as possible and certainly in the time allowed by any company policy. The employee can talk with the employer if it is felt that the decision was wrong or unfair – informally at first is preferable. This can make it easier to explain why the decision is felt to be wrong or unfair. New information may be presented if not available earlier. Evidence of unfairness can be presented too but the employee should appreciate the employer’s reasoning and perhaps suggest a compromise.

            The appeal can be in email or letter form explaining why the decision should be looked at again and what the employee would like to happen next (for example, look at the new information and meet up to discuss the flexible working request).

            The employer can consider or dismiss the appeal but should do so as soon as possible and still within the 3-month window from the original request date. The employer can ask for more time to make a decision, but only if the employee agrees.

            If the Employee is Still Unhappy?

            If the employee still feels that the request has not been handled fairly, a grievance can be raised. There should be a grievance policy to rely on. If this still does not work, the employee might be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. Alternatively, the Acas Arbitration Scheme might be used. 

            Employees Being Treated Unfairly Because of the Request

            The employer should not dismiss or treat the employee unfairly or cause detriment just because of the request or intended request. Employees who feel that they have suffered as a result of making the request could possibly sue for unfair dismissal.

            John Davies
            12th February 2021

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