Considering the rise in popularity of flexible working

A study recently suggested that being given the option to work flexibly is amongst the most popular work benefits desired by UK employees. Meanwhile, separate research also revealed that 56% of professionals believe that working the traditional nine to five is 'outdated', whilst a further 39% have urged employers to abandon 'dated' working traditions. Here, we take a look at how employees can request to work flexibly, and how employers should respond.

Making a statutory application

All employees have the right to request flexible working, whether that be choosing to work from home or having flexible start and finish times. However, in order to be eligible, employees must have worked continuously for the same employer for at least 26 weeks.

Employees seeking to work flexibly must make a statutory application. Employees are required to write to their employer, outlining their request. Take note: only one application can be made per year.

The employer is obliged to consider the request, and reach a decision within three months (however, this may be longer, if agreed with the employee).

Approving the application

In the event that the employer agrees to the request, the terms and conditions of the employee's contract must be changed. The employer should write to the employee, giving them a statement of the agreed changes, and a start date for flexible working. This should be done no later than 28 days after the request was approved.

Rejecting the application

If the employer disagrees with the request, they are required to write to the employee, outlining the business reasons for the refusal. Many reasons exist for an employer to reject an application:

  • extra costs associated with flexible working will damage the business
  • work cannot be reorganised amongst other members of staff
  • individuals cannot be recruited to do the work
  • the quality of work and performance will be affected by flexible working
  • the business will struggle to meet customer demand
  • a lack of work exists during the proposed working times
  • the business plans to make changes to its workforce.

Making an appeal

Employees do not have the statutory right to appeal a decision. However, an employer may choose to provide an appeals system, in order to help demonstrate that they are dealing with requests reasonably.

Employees may take the matter to an employment tribunal in cases where the employer:

  • failed to handle the employee's request in a 'reasonable manner'
  • incorrectly treated the employee's application as withdrawn
  • dismissed the employee or treated them unfairly as a result of their request to work flexibly
  • rejected the application based on false information.

Employees are not permitted to appeal simply because their flexible working request was rejected. Those employees that do appeal must do so within three months of:

  • hearing their employer's decision
  • hearing their request was treated as withdrawn
  • the date the employer was required to respond to the request, but failed to do so.

Individuals unsure of their rights are advised to obtain legal advice.

Flexible working is likely to become more and more popular. Both employees and employers should ensure that they stay up-to-date on the rules regarding making an application to work flexibly.

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