Ask The Expert; Can I Refuse Flexible Working?

Ask The Expert; Can I Refuse Flexible Working?

In 2014 a new law was introduced which gave employees with 26 weeks’ of service or more (to be continuous with the same employer) the right to request flexible working. Employers are then required to address the request in a reasonable manner.

Flexible working requests relate to any adjustment to the workers current working status. For example, types of flexible working include;

Job sharing – where two people do one job and split the hours

Working from home – where work is completed at home or anywhere else other than the normal place of work, either part or all of the time

Part-time – reducing less than full-time hours

Compressed hours – working full-time over fewer days

Flexitime – employees are able to choose when they start and end work, often within agreed limits. For example, ‘core hours’ are to be within 11am and 3pm

Annualised hours – employees are required to work a certain number of hours over the year, but have flexibility over when they work these hours. For example, there may be some ‘core hours’ set, but the rest of the time may be worked flexibly

Staggered hours – different starts, finish and break times are granted to individual employees

Phased retirement – older workers are able to choose when they retire and given greater control, reducing their hours to work part-time

Employees are able to apply for flexible working to their employer after 26 weeks’ or more continuous service with a statutory application. Once an employee has formally requested flexible working, an employer has a minimum of 3 months to make a decision (sometimes longer if agreed beforehand with the employee). If agreed, the terms and conditions are required to be changed in the employee’s contract. Only one application for flexible working can be made per year.

Flexible working is said to greatly improve how an employee feels at work (82% said they feel more productive working at home), improve commuting times (40% said they could avoid traffic with flexible working time) and if given the opportunity a third of employees would prefer flexible working over a pay rise.

Employers are expected to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. This means a meeting (either face to face, over the phone etc) to discuss an employees request is often advised to discuss the request as soon as possible.

However, there are occasions when flexible working can be refused.

These include;

Work quality and standards will suffer – for example, where the quality of work will be reduced or company standards compromised if flexible working is granted

Additional costs will be incurred – if additional costs will be incurred to the business then you are able to refuse the request

Unable to recruit additional staff – where an approval of flexible working would require additional staff and you are unable to fill that position, requests can be refused

Unable to reorganise work among staff – for example, if an employee wants to go part-time and work is unable to be reorganised among the team

Insufficient work for periods that the employee proposes to work – if the period an employee proposes to work does not align with the work set, then a request can be refused

Changes are planned to the workforce – for example, if you are going to change the way employees work and this conflicts with a request then you are able to rightly refuse a request made

Any requests which are refused should provide one of the above reasons and give a good explanation as to why. Reasons given should not be discriminatory and an appeal process should also be detailed.

During an appeal process you should discuss with your employee clearly as to why their request was refused. You should allow your employee the chance to take someone with them to their discussion (especially if they were present at the original discussion).

If applications are refused, then employees are able to take the following steps;

  • Refer request to Acas or Labour Relations Agency
  • Raise a grievance
  • Make a claim to an employment tribunal
  • Make a discrimination claim
  • Claim constructive dismissal

You are able to rightfully refuse any flexible working requests you receive, but requests should be considered in a ‘reasonable manner’ and only refused if you can apply one of the reasons set out in the guidelines. If you are unsure then it’s always advisable to enlist the help of a HR professional such as Bradfield HR.

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