Flexible working: Five things employers need to know

By KMC Human Resources

07 Sep 2016

The way we work in the UK has changed dramatically over the last ten years. Fuelled by the rise of digital technology and connectivity, the modern workplace is now a very different place and to coincide, employee attitudes to the way we work are also changing.

By Karen Credie, KMCHR.

The past few years in particular have seen flexible working grow significantly, with this way of working now being the norm for many workers. With one survey finding that over half of UK workers (55%) admitting that the option to work flexibly will be crucial when picking their next job, the trend towards flexible working is set to increase.

So what do employers need to know about flexible working rules and how can you make them work for your business?

What counts as flexible working?

Flexible working is any way of working that falls outside of the company ‘norm’. This can involve a change to the hours an employee works, the times they are required to work or their place of work.

Right to request

Any employee that has been working at an organisation for 26 continuous weeks has the right to request flexible working arrangements. Under law, employers must ‘seriously consider’ such requests and make a decision within three months of the receipt of the request (which should be made in writing by the employee). The only other stipulation to an employee’s rights here is that they can only make one flexible working request in any 12 month period.

Right to refuse

Employers have the right to refuse a request made by an employee for flexible working provided they have a valid business reason to do so. Inability to perform work duties, inability to meet customer demand, insufficient work during the proposed hours, a detrimental impact on other staff or an increased cost to the business could all potentially be ‘valid reasons’ to refuse a flexible working request.

Health and safety

A flexible working agreement with an employee may see them spending some of their time working from home. Employers still have health and safety obligations to employees working at their home and will therefore need to come up with a suitable way to risk assess their employees’ work stations. Employers should also consider the mental wellbeing of any staff that work away from the office along with any data protection implication for the business.

Maintain a level playing field

Despite the fact that employers can refuse flexible working requests, by doing so they will need to consider whether they have allowed or refused other similar requests made by other employees. Should any refusal be classed as discriminatory by an employee, they could make a formal complaint via the company’s grievance procedure or via the Acas arbitration scheme. They could also take their case to the employment tribunal, in which case any past precedent for accepting flexible working requests could potentially be used against you.

And finally, if you do agree to a request for flexible working, don’t forget to confirm the details in writing and update the employee’s Contract of Employment to reflect the change. For further advice in relation to flexible working requests or to develop policies and procedures surrounding flexible working in your business, please contact us. Any business that is new to KMC HR may claim a free one hour consultation.

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