Flexible working requests – how do they work?

Flexible Working 2021

Over the last few months almost everyone has had to work flexibly. This was more by accident than design, but employers now face a hugely increased likelihood that employees will want to alter their way of working.

Most businesses will have had to make some serious changes to the way they work in the past 12 months, affecting both employees and employers alike. Many employers are starting to see the benefits some of these changes have brought about including employees having the ability to work flexibly. This has now led to the government calling for flexible working to be normalised, giving employees the option to experience flexi-time, part-time working and the ability to work from home where possible.

What are the benefits of flexible working?

Research shows that explicitly offering flexible working in job adverts increases applications by up to 30%. This not only opens more opportunities to women (who are twice as likely to work flexibly than men) it can help to reduce geographical inequality as the country recovers from the impact of COVID-19. Some people may not be able to afford expensive housing in the centre of major cities or the long commutes in and out every day which can be off-putting. Flexible working can attract a more skilled or desirable workforce as these factors may not have to be taken into consideration anymore.

This can also be a real benefit to existing members of staff whose personal circumstances may have changed or who may wish to work more manageable hours. If the choice is between working full time or leaving to find an alternative part-time role, you may want to consider such changes to retain valuable staff members, whilst increasing job satisfaction and morale within your team.

Some employers have noticed a difference since remote working became government advice such as greater cost-effectiveness and savings on overheads. However, there can be potentially negative implications that employers will need to bear in mind. Some employees may not work efficiently without supervision, and it can easily create feelings of unfairness when only certain employees have work that can be done remotely when others don’t.

Here, we look at what you need to do if you are approached by staff with a flexible working request.

Although the right to request flexible working has been around for many years, employers often struggle to deal with them consistently and fairly, and in a manner which doesn’t put them at risk of a costly discrimination claim.

Let’s look at some of the common questions about flexible working and bust some myths!

1. Only parents or carers are allowed to request flexible working

This is not the case.  As of 2014 the right to apply for flexible working was extended to any employee regardless of dependents. If employees want to spend more time looking after their new puppies, then they are just as entitled to request flexible working as a carer is!

2. Who can make a request?

The eligibility criteria:

  • They must be an employee
  • They must have a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous service
  • They cannot have made an application for flexible working within the last 12 months


3. Flexible working isn’t just working part time or from home

Flexible working actually has a much wider spectrum of possibilities.  These possibilities offer solutions that can be of benefit to both parties.

These possible working patterns include:

  • Reducing the hours they work
  • Moving to flexitime
  • Working from home for a portion of their time
  • Job sharing
  • Compressed hours
  • Annualised hours


4. Is flexible working costly for the business?

Flexible working time can, in fact, be more cost effective and save the business money.

If somebody reduces their hours their salary will be prorated accordingly.  You can then have them working the hours of the business that need them more than other times.

In today’s world of work, services are expected to be provided for longer time periods than the traditional 9-5.  If you have some employees on flexitime you may be able to extend your core hours of business therefore potentially increasing revenue with no increase in wage roll.

If you have people working from home rather than the office, then it can reduce the amount of office space needed to accommodate employees therefore reducing your overheads.

5. How do we know an employee is actually working when they are based at home?

The concern of employers is that employees working from home are going to prioritise washing, making tea, Jeremy Kyle and Loose Women over work! But when managed properly, working from home can actually have the opposite effect.

Studies have shown that people who are given the opportunity to work flexibly from home are actually more dedicated and motivated because of it.

They are saved the stress of long or costly commutes and the distractions in the office and feel grateful for the better work/life balance.  This can then, in turn, boost their productivity and motivation.

6. Employees only request permanent changes

This is not the case.  Employees can make a request for a temporary change for given periods of time.

For instance – their partner is having a serious operation and will need care for a period of time afterwards.

7. The employee can make a request verbally

In order to follow a proper process and ensure that it is done fairly the employee should put their request in writing.

This request should:

  • clearly state that it is a request for flexible working
  • say how they meet the eligibility conditions
  • explain the change they are requesting
  • give a date which they would like the change to become effective from
  • give details of what impact, if any, the change will have on the employer
  • state if they have made any applications in the past and if so, when


8. I am not allowed to refuse a flexible working time request from a new mother

This is not the case.  A new mother returning to work after a period of maternity leave has the right to request flexible working time arrangements, but her employer has no obligation to grant the request as long as the employer can establish one of the following business reasons:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • detrimental impact on quality
  • damaging impact on performance
  • negative effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to your business.

Although there is no statutory right to appeal in cases of flexible working time requests being denied, it is good practice to be able to evidence that you have considered the request in a reasonable way to avoid a discrimination claim.

9. Employees can make as many flexible working time requests as they like

Employees can only make one official request in any 12-month period.  They can ask to make another one but you do not have to grant the request.

Whether you are an employer faced with a request from an employee or an employee who has been denied a request, we can advise you on your options.

How can we help you?

In some cases, we can offer you free guidance. For our Watertight HR & Legal clients some of this work may be included in your fees so please ask. If you are not a Watertight client and would like a quote for advice on flexible working regulations contact us today by calling 0333 888 0290 or email hello@bhayanirecruitment.co.uk

For HR, employment law and Health & Safety services for you or your business visit www.bhayanilaw.co.uk

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