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Will employers see an increase in flexible working requests as lockdown ends?

Since 2014 all employees who have more than 26 weeks’ service with their employer have the right to request flexible working if they are legally classed as an employee and they have not made another flexible working request in the past 12 months.

However, as workers have adjusted to new ways of working during the coronavirus pandemic, such as working from home or working different hours, this may prompt many to think about making a flexible working request as we exit lockdown. It is therefore important for employers to understand their obligations in respect of flexible working requests.

Eligible employees might make a ‘flexible working request’ for several different reasons, such as:

  • Reducing hours to work part-time
  • Changing start or finish times
  • Flexibility with start and finish times (sometimes known as ‘flexitime’)
  • Compress hours over fewer days
  • Work from home (‘remote working’)
  • Share the job with someone else

The change requested does not have to be permanent and could be for a limited time, for example 6 months or only during term-time. Employees can also ask for changes to apply to all working days or just specific days or shifts only.

Employers have a duty to deal with such requests in a reasonable manner and must decide within a maximum of 3 months. When making a decision on a flexible working request, employers should follow the Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests. If a flexible working request case reaches an employment tribunal, judges will take into consideration whether the employer has followed the Acas Code. It is therefore important for employers to consider requests properly, following available guidance and seek employment law advice if needed.

In addition to following the Acas Code it is also a good idea for an employer to have their own policy for flexible working requests. Having your own policy can help you make the process suit your workplace, ensure you treat all requests in the same way and make it easy for employees to find out how to make a request.

Employers can only turn down a flexible working request if there’s a valid business reason. These reasons are:

  • It will cost your business too much
  • Work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • Unable to recruit more staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
  • Negative effect on performance
  • Insufficient work for the employee during requested working hours
  • Planned structural changes to the business

Our employment law team can offer help and advice to ensure you follow correct practices and procedures on a range of employment law issues. To speak to Martin Bloom about any aspect of employment law please call 01733 295 362 or email martin.bloom@hegarty.co.uk.

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