How to handle flexible working requests

The right to request flexible working was introduced under the Employment Act 2002 and came into force on 6th April 2003. Many employers are reporting an increase in requests for flexible working post Covid (although flexible working is broader than just working remotely for some or part of the time).

However, employers still find it difficult to respond to requests. This can give rise to claims of discrimination or constructive unfair dismissal. Many employers do not realise that the right to flexible working is a statutory right and must be backed up with a well-managed process.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill 2022-23, currently making its way through parliament will extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from the first of employment where currently employees require a minimum of 26 weeks’ service to make such a request. It will also increase the number of requests an employee can make from one request to two in any twelve-month period. It will also require an employer to consult with the employee if they are considering rejecting a flexible working request and will remove the requirement for employees to set out how the employer might deal with the effects of the request.

In light of this, here are some of the practical steps employers should consider when dealing with requests:

  • Diarise key dates.Currently the employer must notify the employee of the decision, including any appeal within three months (two months if the new bill becomes law).
  • Be open minded.Do an impact assessment, engaging with key stakeholders (including the employee and their manager) to discuss how the request would work in practice, identify any key challenges and how they could be resolved.
  • Document your decision-making process.Clearly document what you considered, any reasons why it is not feasible and back this up with evidence. Therefore, if you are later challenged you can demonstrate the reasonableness of your decision.
  • Consider alternatives.If you are not able to agree to the request in full, discuss with the employee what you could accommodate. However, if you do not agree to the request in full, you still need to offer a right of appeal.
  • Trial periods.Agree a trial period before agreeing to any permanent change to see how the new pattern works in practice. It is also useful to set reviews throughout so that if something isn’t working you can discuss and adjust if possible.
  • Record any agreement in writing.This ensures there is no ambiguity about what has been agreed and should set out the new work pattern and any impact on pay, holidays, benefits and pension.

For further advice on flexible working contact 121 HR Solutions – enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk.

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