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:
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!
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):