Following a change in the eligibility requirements for flexible working, all staff, regardless of their circumstances, can now make flexible working requests so long as they have 26 weeks’ service at the time the request is made and have not made more than one statutory request in a 12-month period. This means, in effect, that a member of staff can request flexible working to play golf every Friday afternoon and this now has to be considered alongside requests due to childcare demands.
All flexible working requests received should be considered seriously. The right to request flexible working is a statutory right and a failure to manage these appropriately could lead to a number of claims against employers, including claims of constructive dismissal where the employee resigns due to the failure to consider the request altogether. Requests should be dealt with in a reasonable manner and the whole process, including any discussions, outcome and any appeals, should be completed within three months from receipt of the request.
The right to request flexible working does not automatically mean that the request will be approved. Each request should be assessed on its merits and a discussion between employee and employer will often be useful to determine whether it can be approved or if any alternative arrangements will meet the employee’s need. Flexible working requests can be refused for one of the specified business reasons to do so including: the burden of additional costs; being unable to reorganise work among existing staff; a negative impact on quality or performance and a negative effect on the company’s ability to meet customer demand. Where the request is rejected, there is no longer a specific right to appeal the refusal though whether an appeal was offered will be considered when deciding whether the refusal was reasonable.
Refusing a flexible working request wrongly, ie by not relying on one of the accepted business reasons, can result in a tribunal ordering the request to be reconsidered and a monetary award being awarded to the employee. Employers should also take care to make sure that any refusals are not discriminatory and that a blanket ban does not unfavourably impact one group of employees more than another. If there is confusion about the flexible working request within the business, it may be prudent to introduce a flexible working policy which will highlight how requests will be dealt with and the correct procedure for employers and employees to follow.