Flexible Working - Your Rights and Responsibilities

Flexible working is becoming increasingly important to employees wanting to achieve a better work/life balance. In fact, one study by communications firm TeleWare, shows almost a quarter of employees have rejected a job due to a lack of flexibility in working times or location. Yet, with the recent release of the CIPD’s report on flexible working trends, it’s clear that a large proportion of the UK workforce are yet to take up the option.

Of course, there are some employees who don’t feel the need to work flexibly and some businesses where it’s not a viable option. However, the CIPD study suggests that many employees feel there are barriers to working flexibly due to a culture of resistance within management. With flexible working currently under the spotlight, we’re looking at what both employees and employers should know about their rights and responsibilities.

What is flexible working?

First introduced in the Employment Act in 2003, the Flexible Working Regulations initially gave the parents of young or disabled children the right to request flexible hours to help them fulfil their caring responsibilities. Subsequent amendments in 2007 and 2014 extended the option to carers of adults and then to any employee who has worked for their employer for at least 26 consecutive weeks.

Flexible working essentially means any way of working that falls outside the regular 9 to 5 day, allowing employees to work at a time and location that suits them. Examples of flexible working arrangements include:

  • Working from home
  • Part-time hours
  • Job sharing
  • Flexitime
  • Annualised hours
  • Compressed hours
  • Staggered hours
  • Phased retirement
  • Mobile working
  • Term-time working
  • Career breaks

Whatever kind of flexible working an employee requests, there are certain procedures that must be followed.

What do employees need to do?

If you qualify in terms of the service length mentioned above, you have the right to make a ‘statutory application’ for flexible working to your employer. Some employers may have their own request form. If not, employees must ensure that their application:

  • Is in writing – either in the form of a letter or email
  • Is dated
  • Sets out that this is a statutory request
  • Includes the details of the working hours/location that the employee would like to work
  • States when the employee would like the arrangement to start
  • Sets out how the business might be affected by the new working arrangement and what can be done to resolve any issues identified
  • Gives details and dates of any previous applications for flexible working (only 1 request per year is permitted)

What are an employer’s responsibilities?

All requests should be considered in a ‘reasonable manner’ within 3 months (unless agreed otherwise with the employee).

Accepting a statutory request for flexible working

If the flexible working requested sounds like it will work for your company and the employee, great! Any employer accepting a statutory application must ensure that within 28 days they:

  • Provide the employee with a written statement of agreed changes and the date when the flexible working will come into effect
  • Change the employee’s work contract to reflect the changes to their terms and conditions

Rejecting a statutory request for flexible working

While it might not be possible for an employer to agree to an employee’s request due to business reasons, they need to ensure that they deal with any request in a ‘reasonable manner’. If an employer appears not to have acted reasonably, they risk the prospect of being taken to an employment tribunal. So, what does ‘in a reasonable manner’ mean? In essence, an employer should show that they have:

  • Considered the request within 3 months of the application (unless the employee has agreed to a longer time period)
  • Assessed the advantages and disadvantages of the request
  • Met with the employee to discuss their application
  • Offered the employee an opportunity to appeal the decision (there is no statutory right to appeal the decision but offering an appeal bolsters an employer’s case that they have acted in a ‘reasonable manner’)

When refusing a request, it’s important for the employer to set out a solid and reasonable business case for their decision (you can find more information here).

Employment law advice from the experts

Getting things right when it comes to flexible working is important in terms of both job satisfaction and business productivity. At Rowberry Morris, our employment law specialists have years of experience in helping both the workforce and businesses navigate complex legal issues in the workplace.

If you’re an employee who feels your flexible working request was not dealt with in a reasonable manner, or you’re an employer who wants to get the process right in order to avoid the prospect of being taken to a tribunal, our team will give you the expert legal advice you need.

Contact our employment law solicitors.