As more of us struggle to strike a balance between our work and family life, employers are increasingly being approached with requests for flexible working.

The law and flexible working requests

It’s important to remember that flexible working isn’t simply about working fewer hours. It’s also about working full-time on a more flexible basis – compressed hours, different start or finish times and working from home.

After 26 weeks’ continuous service, any employee can make a flexible working request. They don’t have the right to have it granted; however they do have the right to request it. Employees with less than 26 weeks’ service can still request flexible working, but employers aren’t obliged to consider it.

Requests must be considered in a ‘reasonable manner’. You should meet the employee to discuss; consider the business impact; and provide a decision within three months. Not acting ‘reasonably’ could result in an employment tribunal where a failure to deal with a flexible working request properly is eight weeks’ pay (capped at £479 per week, or £3,832 in total).

Refusing a flexible working request

You can refuse a flexible working request, but only if there is a clear business reason for doing so.

There are eight business reasons an employer can use, including the burden of extra costs and an inability to recruit more staff, meet customer demand and reorganise work.

You’re not obliged to offer the right of appeal but it’s considered good practice to have an appeals process in place.

Practical tips for handling flexible working requests

· Draw up a flexible working policy, stating how requests will be considered and the grounds on which requests will be declined
· Involve the employee in the process – for example, by asking them to assess the likely impact of the changes on the business
· Don’t automatically say ‘no’ without first assessing whether the proposed changes can be accommodated
· Show flexibility. If the employee requests a three day week, you may want to consider offering them the opportunity to work four days per week instead
· Suggest a trial period as a way of establishing whether there are any adverse affects to the business
· Consider job shares as a way of allowing two employees to work flexibly together
· If you’re faced with competing claims, consider which is most likely to result in a tribunal or discrimination claim.

This article was supplied by Samantha Castle of Barcan+Kirby.

Further reading on flexible working