Flexible working covers a range of different practices such as:
- changing the employee’s normal working hours;
- reducing the number of days or hours worked;
- working compressed hours;
- alterations in shift working
- working from home or remote working
- job shares and shift working
Some changes might have consequential effects on pay, whereas others may not. For example, working different or compressed hours (ie full time hours but over 4 rather than 5 days) shouldn’t affect their salary or benefits provided the overall number of hours worked does not change.
Any employee can make an informal request to work flexibly, and it is often prudent for an employee to have an initial chat with their manager to find out whether the flexible working pattern proposed would be suitable for the business.
Employees with more than 26 weeks service have the right to make a statutory request for flexible working. This right is not limited to parents or carers and can be made by any employee, for any reason. In order to make a statutory request the law sets out a process that must be followed by both the employee making the request and the employer. The entire statutory process must be completed within 3 months from the date of the employee’s request which must be in writing (and the employee cannot make a further request within a twelve month period, so they need to get it right first time).
Employers are not obliged to grant requests for flexible working, but they must consider them carefully. Ruling out requests because flexible working is not part of the organisation’s culture or may lead to further requests is not permissible. There are only a number of statutory grounds upon which a request may legitimately be refused, these are:
- the burden of additional costs;
- a detrimental effect on meeting customer demand;
- the inability to re-organise work amongst existing staff;
- the inability to recruit additional staff;
- a detrimental impact on quality;
- a detrimental impact on performance;
- insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work; and
- planned structural changes.
Even where flexible working may be a cultural shift for an organisation they should consider that many employees now regard it is beneficial when considering employment moves and the ability to work flexibly can result in attracting and retaining good staff. It is also worth being in mind that where there are reasons behind the request, such as caring for a child or family member, in some circumstances a refusal could be directly or indirectly discriminatory.
If the request for flexible working is granted, this will normally mean a permanent change to the employee’s employment contract unless a temporary change or “trial period” is negotiated between the parties.