Under provisions set out in UK employment law, specifically those under the Employment Rights Act 1996, all employees have a right to make request to their employer to change their contractual work obligations to work flexibly. Flexible working request/arrangements can include homeworking, working on temporary contracts, part-time working, job sharing, flexitime and shift work.
For this, the employee must have continuously worked for their employer for a period of 26 weeks or more. Furthermore, an employee can only make one such request in any 12 month period. Employers must consider a request for flexible working and whether or not it can possibly benefit both the employer and the employee making the request.
Before June 2014, only employees who had children below 17 years (18 years if they are the parents of disabled children) had the right to apply for flexible working. Now, all eligible employees can apply to work flexibly for any reason.
Key Points for Making the Request
First, the request for flexible working should be in writing and state the date of making the request along with any information as to whether any previous applications were made.
Such requests and appeals are usually considered and decided upon within three months of receiving the request.
Procedure for Making a Flexible Working Request
Employees who’ve been working for less than 26 weeks do not have the statutory right to ask for flexible working. Having said this, some employers may consider a request even if this is the case. All employees who have been working for the employer for more than 26 weeks have the right to submit a request.
To make a request for flexible working, employees must:
- make the request in writing and state the date along with the changes that you seek in their working conditions;
- state whether they have made a previous application to request flexible working;
- specify how the changes would affect the business;
- inform whether the request is made in relation to the Equality Act 2010;
Handling Requests To Work Flexibly
The employer, upon receiving a request, should schedule a meeting to discuss the request as soon as possible. Although this is not a statutory requirement, it helps resolve the concern amicably.
Furthermore, UK employment law requires the process to be completed within three months of receiving the request. Also, if the request is accepted, it will make a permanent amendment to the contract of employment. Thus, if the employee wishes for a temporary change, they must come to an agreement with their employer.
Employers must consider all requests reasonably and may refuse them only if there is an actual business reason for doing so, these can include:
- the overhead of additional costs;
- an inability to reorganise work between existing staff;
- an inability to hire additional staff;
- an unfavourable impact on quality;
- a detrimental impact on productivity;
- planned structural changes to the business;
- undesirable effects on the ability to meet customer demand;
- inadequate work for the shift timings the employee proposes to work;
Resolving a Dispute
It is beneficial to reach an agreement on flexible working, wherever possible. However, if the request is rejected at the appeal stage, the employee can:
- have an informal discussion with the employer;
- use the internal grievance procedure of the employer;
- seek assistance from ACAS through Early Conciliation;
If it is not possible to reach an agreement, the employee may consider:
- a referral to the ACAS Arbitration Scheme;
- making an employment tribunal claim;
From July 26th 2017, the Supreme Court has discontinued the requirement of paying a fee to make a claim to the Employment Appeals Tribunal or the Employment Tribunal. This has made it much easier for employees to make claims for detrimental treatment in the employment tribunal.
Deciding On A Request
Before an employer considers the request for flexible working, they must carefully review the benefits of the requested changes on the employee and the business, weighing these against any detrimental impact.
There is no statutory obligation on the employers to implement the changes. However, it is a good practice to weigh up the benefits, potential logistical implications and possible costs, before allowing the employee to either:
- accept the request and decide a start date and any other action, or;
- agree on a compromise, for instance a temporary arrangement to work flexibly; or,
- reject the request, citing reasonable business reasons.
Whatever the decision, employers must communicate the same to the employee in writing to prevent any confusion. If the request is granted, it is important to include all the changes relating to work timings into the employee’s contract.