Flexible working requests – an employer’s legal obligations

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Flexible working has become increasingly commonplace in workplaces across the UK in recent years. Whilst some businesses have been quick to accept and cater for flexible working practices, others have struggled to adapt; preferring a traditional approach to working hours and location of work. However, with flexible working being in such demand by today’s employees, it is something that all employers will need to consider at some point; especially if they are to continue to attract top talent to work at their company.

But what exactly are an employer’s legal obligations is relation to flexible working and as an employer, what else do you need to know?

The right to request flexible working

As of 30th June 2014, any employee that has been working at an organisation for 26 continuous weeks gained the legal right to request flexible working arrangements. Under this law, employers must consider such requests in a ‘reasonable manner’ and must respond to the request within three months of receipt. For the request to be legally binding, it should be made in writing by the employee, who cannot have made another flexible working request in the same 12 month period.

An employer’s right to reject a request

Although employees can legally request flexible working patterns, an employer does not legally have to accept. In fact, provided an employer can provide sufficient businesses reasons for doing so, they can refuse the request. There are eight business reasons under which a refusal can be made, including the burden of additional costs, an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff and an inability to recruit additional staff.

Although a business may feel unable to accept a flexible working request, managers should consider the potential adverse effect should they refuse. An employee is likely to have genuine reasons to want to amend their working arrangements and failing to make any dispensation for this may result in the employee becoming demotivated, or even leaving the organisation.

Employers should also be mindful of the fact that an employee may consider the refusal of their request as discriminatory, especially if other employees have been granted flexible hours/arrangements. An employee with such a grievance could make a formal complaint to the Acas arbitration scheme or may even follow their complaint through to an employment tribunal.

What else do employers need to know?

  • Flexible working doesn’t just relate to the hours an employee works but can also relate to their location of work.
  • Any request that is accepted will make a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment.
  • Should an arrangement for an employee to spend some time working from home be agreed, employers still have health and safety obligations to meet and will therefore need to find a suitable may of assessing an managing this.

For more information on integrating flexible working into your business, or to discuss your company’s response to a flexible working request that has been made, please contact our team of employment solicitors today for advice.