If you’re running a business in the UK, it’s very likely that at least some of your employees are eligible to request flexible working hours. When flexible working legislation first arrived in 2003, it mainly applied to the parents of young children, but since 2014 these laws have been broadened out to include pretty much everyone. If you’ve received a request for flexible working patterns, there are certain steps you are legally bound to follow.
In this article, we’ll explain exactly what you need to do to stay on the right side of the law. But first:
Who is eligible to request flexible working hours?
Pretty much every employee in the UK is eligible to request a flexible working pattern. However, there are a few exceptions to be aware of. The types of employee that are not eligible include:
- Any team member that has been employed for less than 26 weeks.
- Most forms of agency worker (although agency workers with young children are still eligible).
- Any employee who has already made a request to their current employer within the last 12 months (no matter if that request was accepted or not).
If one of your employees makes a request for flexible working and they do not fall into any of the above exceptions, then you are legally obliged to take certain steps. If you don’t, you leave yourself open to an employment tribunal.
Flexible working requests: your obligations as an employer
Consider the request
It’s important to note that this legislation does not mean that all these employees have the right to flexible working hours - it means they have the right to request it and to have that request considered ‘reasonably’.
That means looking carefully at their request; trying to foresee the potential benefits that the change might bring before assessing any adverse effects it could have on your business.
You’ll then need to weigh the two against each other and see how it balances out.
The flexible working legislation provides eight reasons that you can use to legally deny a request. You are not allowed to refuse a request for any reason other than these.
Those eight reasons are as follows:
- The burden of additional costs
- An inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
- An inability to recruit additional staff
- A detrimental impact on quality of work
- A detrimental impact on performance
- A detrimental effect on the business's ability to meet customer demand
- Insufficient work to fill the periods that the employee proposes to cover
- A planned structural change to your business
If none of these considerations apply, then you must grant the request.
If you decide to accept the application...
...then it’s a good idea to send your employee a statement of the agreed changes, as well as the start date for the new flexible working pattern to take effect. This helps to avoid any confusion about how the changes will work.
You’ll also need to change your employee’s contract to include the new conditions. This should be done as soon as possible and must be done no later than 28 days after the request was approved.
If you are rejecting the application...
...then you should tell the employee that you’ve rejected it as soon as possible, and explain the reasoning behind your decision. No matter what you decide, you are legally obliged to respond to the request within three months of having received it.
Offer an appeal
If you decide to reject the flexible working application, then you should still leave the door open for the employee to appeal your decision. Arrange a follow-up meeting with the employee to discuss their application further and double-check that there is no other information that you need to take into account.
Remember - this is just the bare bones of the law
What we’ve outlined above is the bare minimum of what is legally required of you as an employer - it doesn’t touch at all on what might make your a company a ‘good’ place to work.
In fact, if you’re sticking grimly to the letter of the law on this topic, then it’s unlikely that it is helping your employees feel particularly valued.
For example, providing an answer to a flexible working request a full three months after it hit your inbox would be perfectly legal, but hardly great practice. It doesn't exactly send the message that your team are high up on your list of priorities.
So… embrace the change
Attitudes towards working patterns are changing rapidly, and seem set to only continue. Three-quarters of UK workers now actively favour jobs that give them the option of flexible working, with the younger millennial generation the most insistent upon it.
Flexible working hours can provide huge benefits for both the employee and the wider business. On one side, the employee is able to balance their work and personal life more effectively, helping to cut down on unnecessary stress. Meanwhile, the employer can benefit from a more productive and engaged employee, who is working in a pattern that helps them to be at their most effective.
There’s an element of hard-nosed business sense about all this too - if you want to attract the best talent then you need to provide the working environment that they want. The current direction of traffic is purely one-way, with businesses all over the UK moving towards more flexible working patterns.
If you want to build a great place to work, then the option of flexible working arrangements is an important consideration - so give the idea some careful thought.