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Understanding flexible working

Flexible working is a way of working that is tailored to suit the employee's needs and is an alternative to traditional set working hours.

Flexible working is a way of working that is tailored to suit the employee’s needs and is an alternative to traditional set working hours. It could include job sharing, working from home, part-time or compressed hours or flexible start and finish times.  Traditionally flexible working has been associated with caring for dependants but is now open to all employees and not just parents or carers.

Why should I consider flexible working for staff?

This way of working gives employees more freedom, to a degree, to choose the hours and days they work and where they work from. As a small business, incorporating these ideas into your company can seem daunting initially but not only are you likely to increase your staff retention rates, have a happier workforce and improved productivity but you will also have a wider pool of talent to choose from when it comes to recruiting.

Employees’ rights to request flexible hours.

Employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service are entitled to make one written request for flexible working within a 12-month period and do not have to give a specific reason for their request.

As an employer, you should have a set policy in place that can be accessed by all your employees. All applications for flexible working should be made directly from employee to employer and stick to what is set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The request must be:

  • In writing.
  • Be dated.
  • Be clear that it is a request for flexible working.
  • Be clear about the change the employee would like to make.
  • State the date the employee would like the change to start.
  • Outline the benefits the employee thinks the change would make to their role and to their employer – and how any changes could be dealt with.
  • Mention whether any previous application for flexible working has been made to that employer and if so, when.

The change doesn’t have to be permanent – for example, if changes need to be made for bereavement or for a period of short study leave, an agreement can be reached whereby the original working pattern resumes after the agreed fixed period.

You should acknowledge the request in writing and give a decision within three months of the date the flexible working request was made.

Can I refuse a flexible working request?

You can decline a flexible working request for one of the following reasons:

  • There will be a burden of additional costs
  • It will have a detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand
  • It would not be possible to re-organise work among existing staff
  • You would be unable to recruit additional staff
  • It would have a negative impact on quality
  • It would have a detrimental impact on performance
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • You have planned structural changes

If you do decide to reject the application, you should tell the employee which of the above reasons applies and why you think they apply. They may of course be perfectly valid reasons however, you also need to consider that more and more flexible working is being employed across all businesses now and if you aren’t able to offer such practices it could have a detrimental effect and retention of valuable employees may be affected.

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