How to handle flexible working requests: an employer’s perspective

Century 21


HR expert Anna Ives gives employers advice in how to handle flexible working requests.

Flexible working is not just an employee benefit, get it right and it can in turn deliver huge benefits back to the business!

The top benefits of accepting flexible working applications are:

  • It allows employees a better work-life balance – the vast majority of people will ‘work to live’ and will be far more appreciative to an employer who enables them to do so.
  • It can reduce absence levels, and the stress and pressure some employees can feel, especially those who are first-time mums!
  • Employees are more likely to stay with their current employer – reducing recruitment costs.
  • Employees are more likely to recommend you as an employer and in turn boost your talent pool.
  • You will have a more engaged workforce – like so many things in life it’s all about ‘give and take’. If you give your employees more flexibility they will feel more inclined to go that extra mile for your business.
  • It enhances the employee’s psychological contract.
  • It makes you a more attractive employer for new employees, meaning you can recruit the very best candidates.
  • It increases employee productivity and motivation – more and more studies are revealing that longer, rigid hours do not make for the best results!
  • You get cost savings for your business on things like office space & supplies, company cars and travel/ subsistence expenses.
  • It enables you to reach an alternative customer base by operating out of regular working hours.

The legal bit

In 2003 the Government introduced the ‘right to request flexible working’. This was initially only for parents and carers. In 2014 the legislation changed to include all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment, regardless of parental or caring responsibilities.

Employers have a duty to consider a request in a reasonable manner and can only legally refuse a request for flexible working under certain reasons (read on to find out what they are!).

Legally, there is no right to appeal, but it is best practice to offer one. However, it is considered reasonable to allow the employee to discuss the rejected application with you.

There was also a shared parental leave scheme introduced in April 2015, which can allow parents some additional flexibility.

To note: The right to request flexible working doesn’t apply to all categories of worker, for example, certain agency workers, and you will need to consider this when accepting flexible working applications. There is a difference between an employee and a worker!

Key points

Requests should be made in writing, stating the date of the request and whether any previous application has been made and the date of that application. Ideally you should have a flexible working policy or template letter/ form for employees to complete their requests. (Get in touch if you would like HR Puzzle to assist with setting one up).

Once you receive a request you must consider it. It is advisable to arrange a meeting as soon as possible after receiving the request. Your employee is entitled to bring along a work college to the meeting.

You don’t, however, need to arrange a meeting if you intend on accepting the request. Just write to the employee to confirm you are accepting it and send a new or amendment to contract if you need to.

You can offer a trial period of the requested working pattern, but ideally this should be completed within the three months of receiving the original application.

Requests and appeals must be considered and decided upon within three months of the receipt of the initial request for flexible working.

When considering the request, you must not discriminate unlawfully against the employee, for instance, indirect discrimination against women who might need flexible working for childcare reasons. Acas can offer further advice on this, if you require.

Employees can only make one request in any 12-month period.

Employers must have a sound business reason for rejecting any request.

If you reject the application, it is advisable to allow the employee to discuss your decision. This will also allow the employee a chance to submit any new or amended information or appeal. The employee can submit a grievance if you don’t have an appeal process or if you still don’t accept the application after appeal if they feel the legislation has not been followed.

Reasons for rejecting a flexible working application

All requests should be considered in a reasonable manner. Business reasons as stated by ACAS code of practice for rejecting a flexible working application are (the reason MUST come from this list):

  • The burden of additional costs 
  • An inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • An inability to recruit additional staff 
  • A detrimental impact on quality
  • A detrimental impact on performance 
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand 
  • Insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work 
  • A planned structural change to the business.

*Anna Ives is an HR consultant and set up her business HR- Puzzle when she struggled to find a flexible role after maternity leave. HR Puzzle is based in Hertfordshire.  More 

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