In June 2014, flexible working requests became a universal right. Anyone with 26 weeks of continuous employment can now ask to work flexibly for any reason.
The repercussions for small businesses, in which each employee may be vital to day-to-day operations, could be significant.
What is a flexible working request?
A flexible working request is where an employee asks for a change to the terms and conditions of their contract. For instance, they may ask to change their start or finish times, or to work wholly or partly from home.
It’s a statutory request, which means it’s provided and governed by an Act of Parliament. Employees can make one statutory flexible working application in a 12-month period.
Before 30 June 2014, only employees who looked after children or cared for disabled adults were entitled to request flexible working. Now all employees who make a request have the right to have it considered ‘in a reasonable manner’ by their employer.
How is a flexible working request made?
The law requires employees to make their applications in writing, setting out the following:
- The date of the application, the change they are seeking to their working conditions and when they would like the change to come into effect
- The effect they think the change might have on the employer and how in their opinion any such effects might be dealt with
- That they are making a statutory request
- Whether they have made a previous application for flexible working, and the date of that application.
What does an employer have to do with a flexible working request?
Employers must consider each flexible working request in a reasonable manner. This means you must either grant the request or provide a proper business reason for declining it.
Any request has to be dealt within three months, including any appeal against a refusal, so it is important to respond without delay.
Open discussion is sensible, but not always necessary if you are happy to grant the request. If you can foresee an issue, it is good practice and evidence of a fair process to have a meeting.
What does ‘in a reasonable manner’ mean?
Employers need to consider flexible working requests carefully, looking at the benefits of the changes for both sides against any adverse effects on the business.
The law does not oblige you to grant a flexible working request if you have proper grounds for declining it. It is recommended you make these changes temporary in the first instance, rather than immediately rewriting contracts.
You can refuse the request, but you will need to be able to explain your reasons to your member of staff clearly in a meeting and in writing.
The grounds for refusal are mainly common business sense, such as it would cost too much extra, or would make it harder to meet customer demand to implement the requested change.
What do the changes mean for employers?
Employers will have to deal with such requests more often. But ACAS urges businesses to consider the positive effects on staff morale, loyalty, engagement and productivity that flexible policies can engender.
It’s important to put in place a fair, clear and objective flexible working policy. Some businesses will already have one, and some will already offer it to all employees. Others will have policies that just require a little tweaking to bring them in line with the new law.
It doesn’t need to be a written policy, though many businesses (and employees) prefer this. But all employers need to ensure that their staff know how to apply for flexible working, and that requests are handled properly.
More help on ByteStart
For more tips and ideas on how to hire, motivate and keep great staff, read these guides;
- How to motivate employees and create a loyal workforce on a budget
- Using staff benefits to motivate and retain employees
- How to design an effective incentive scheme for your small business
- How setting up a salary sacrifice scheme can reward staff and mean lower tax bills for employers and employees
- Can you fire an employee and get thanked by them for doing it?
- How to engage your employees and boost performance
And for guidance on other employment issues, try some of ByteStart’s other guides;
- The ‘Fit for Work’ scheme – what it means for employers
- Dismissing a member of staff – what you need to do to stay on the right side of the law
- How to prepare for and handle an employee grievance
- Health & Safety compliance for small businesses – where do you start?
- Anxiety and depression – how to manage them in the workplace
- Employers liability insurance – if you employ anybody you are legally required to have cover
About the author
This article was written for ByteStart by Kirsty Burgess. She is a co-founder and Director of citrusHR, the UK’s most comprehensive employment support service for new and smaller businesses. See CitrusHR.com for more information.