Five Common Myths about Flexible Working

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Flexible working is becoming increasingly common and is a way that employers can help their staff strike the appropriate work/life balance. The right to request flexible working has formed part of UK employment law since 1999 but the details of the statutory scheme covering this area often leave employers confused.

A flexible working request can be a request to change the hours that an employee works, the times they are required to work or the place that the employee works, such as requesting to work from home.

Here we dispel five common myths about flexible working:

Myth 1

Only those with children can request flexible working. This is not true. Whilst flexible working used to be linked to caring responsibilities, the statutory right is available to all employees who have over 26 weeks’ service.

Myth 2

Employers can refuse requests for flexible working for any reason. No – employers who refuse a flexible working request must rely on one or more of the eight legal grounds of refusal and need to state which one(s) they are relying upon when refusing. Such a request could be denied if there is insufficient work available during the employee’s proposed hours, the request does not algin with planned structural changes to the business or it would require burdensome additional costs. An employer can also refuse such a request if, for example, accepting the employee’s request would have a detrimental impact on quality of business output or performance or ability to meet customer demand. An employer could also refuse the request if it would be difficult to reorganise work or recruit additional staff, perhaps because the employee wishes to change or reduce their hours and it would not be possible to get somebody to cover the necessary hours.

The key, however, is to not to reject such requests out of hand and to consider each flexible working request on its facts.

Myth 3

Employees have to give a reason for their request. No – employees do not have to provide any explanation as to why they are requesting flexible working. The legal rules currently require that a request is made in writing, is dated, explains the flexibility being requested, when they want it to take effect, whether they have made any previous request and any impact they think that their request might have on their employer. This last requirement is due to be removed when legal changes to flexible working come into force, likely next year.

Myth 4

Employees can make as many flexible working requests as they want to. This is not true. Under the current statutory regime an employee can only make one request in every 12 month period. This is due to be extended to two requests in every 12 month period when legal changes in this area come into force, likely in 2024.

Myth 5

Flexible working means part-time working. No – flexible working is a lot wider than the right to request to work part-time. The statutory regime allows employees to request changes not just to their hours of work but also place of work and times of work.

Here to Help

Employers should be reasonable and consistent in their approach to considering flexible working requests. In most cases it will be helpful to put in place a flexible working policy setting out your approach to dealing with flexible working requests and to maintain a record of decisions and their rationale to ensure consistency.

If you require any advice on a dealing with a current request, or drawing up a  flexible working policy then please get in touch with our Employment team today.

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Please note the contents of this blog are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.