The term ‘flexible working’ is becoming a popular one. But what actually is it? Who is doing it? How are requests made? And must you agree to a flexible working request?
What is flexible working?
Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs. It might involve an earlier or later start and finish time to better suit the employee’s commitments outside of work. Or it might be working reduced hours and days, or working from home.
Who is working flexibly?
In a study by Timewise, supported by Ernst and Young, ‘Flexible Working: A Talent Imperative’ (19/09/2017) found that 87 per cent of full-time employees in the UK either work flexibly or would prefer to do so. For millennials, this figure rises to 92 per cent.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 26 per cent of UK workers currently work part-time and 74 per cent work full time. And the Timewise study shows that amongst the full timers, 63 per cent work flexibly in some way, while 37 per cent have no flexibility in their working pattern.
A very interesting calculation resulting from these statistics is this: only 27 per cent of all UK employees (full-time and part-time combined) still work a traditional full-time pattern with no form of flexibility.
On the back of this, the Timewise study predicted that it won’t be too long before the whole of the British workforce become flexible workers, in some way.
How is a flexible working request made?
The request must be made in writing and sent to the employee’s line manager. The application should contain the following:
• The change to working conditions and/or flexible working pattern they are seeking.
• When and why they would like the changes to take effect.
• Duration ie. if it’s for a limited term, how long it would last.
• Whether they wish it to apply permanently or for an initial trial period.
• What effect they consider the request will have on the organisation and how this could be accommodated.
• Whether they are making the request under the Equality Act 2010 e.g. a “reasonable adjustment” for a disability.
An employee can only make a request for flexible working if they have at least 26 weeks continuous employment at the time of their application.
Employees can only make one request in any twelve-month period. Successful applications for flexible working can result in a permanent change to their terms and conditions of employment.
What you do upon receipt of a request?
Firstly, write to the worker acknowledging receipt giving a date when you will meet with them to discuss. The worker has the right to be accompanied.
Next, make sure the request is considered objectively and that a meaningful discussion takes place.
It’s also advisable to put in the letter when the organisation is likely to agree/disagree with the request. And to mention that if or where necessary, an extension of time may be required to consider the application.
Must you agree to a flexible working request?
There are statutory business reasons why an employer may reject a request. These are:
• The burden of additional costs is unacceptable to the organisation.
• They are unable to reorganise work among existing staff.
• They are unable to recruit additional staff.
• The change would have a detrimental impact on: quality, performance, or the ability to meet customer demand.
• There is insufficient work during periods the worker proposes to work.
- The worker’s request does not fit with business changes or a reorganisation they are planning.
What to do if you reject an application
Write to the worker with the reason or reasons for the rejection and give the worker the right of appeal. The employee must submit an appeal within five working days of the rejection. The appeal, where possible, should be heard by a more senior person.