The desire for more flexible working has been highlighted in the media recently, with reports of employees ditching the 9-5 for a more favourable work-life balance. Organisations are increasingly recognising the business benefits of a more flexible way of working.

1.What is flexible working?

Flexible working is any working pattern other than the normal working pattern – it can involve changes to the hours an employee works, the times they are required to work or their place of work.

2.What benefits can flexible working bring to a business?

  • Flexible working patterns may attract employees to your company and having a flexible approach will also help to retain existing staff.
  • It may boost employee morale and commitment.
  • The introduction of more flexible working arrangements can also reduce absenteeism.
  • It has also been proven that flexible working provisions can lead to noticeable improvements in employee productivity.

3.What are the common types of flexible working?

  • Part-time work – working less than the normal hours, perhaps by working fewer days per week.
  • Flexi-time – choosing when to work.
  • Annualised hours – your hours are worked out over a year (often in set shifts with you deciding when to work the other hours).
  • Working your agreed hours over fewer days.
  • Staggered hours – different starting, break and finishing times for employees in the same workplace.
  • Job share – sharing a job designed for one person with someone else
  • Working from home.

4.Who qualifies?

  • Almost all employees with at least 26 weeks’ service qualify. This includes both part-time and full-time employees.
  • Agency workers and directors who are not also employees do not have the right to request flexible working.
  • An employee who has already made a request is not entitled to make another for 12 months.
  • Employees with ’employee shareholder status’ do not qualify.
  • Employees with employee shareholder status have specifically agreed to give up various employment rights in return for free shares in the business. This includes giving up the right to request flexible working.
  • Other employees who own shares in their employer are entitled to request flexible working.
  • Different working practices can involve changes to the hours and times worked.

5.How does the process work?

The employee must prepare a detailed written application well in advance of when they want to change their working pattern. It is good practice to acknowledge an application to work flexibly in writing.

6.On what grounds can the application be refused?

Employers can refuse an application to work flexibly only if there is a clear business reason, such as: the burden of additional costs; inability to meet customer demand or reorganise work among other employees; detrimental effect on quality or performance; insufficient work when the employee proposes to work, etc.

7. Accepting a request

If you accept a request for flexible working you will need to amend the employee’s contract of employment to reflect the changes. You may want to agree a trial period. If the new flexible working arrangement involves changes to the number of hours worked, you will need to amend the employee’s pay and holiday entitlement. Health and safety requirements still apply to employees working from home. Give employees simple, specific health and safety advice and record what has been done.

8. Consider the impact of the changes on other employees

  • If an employee will be working fewer hours, make sure you have adequate cover in place. Other employees may become resentful if their workload increases.
  • You should inform other employees as early as possible.
  • You need to make sure work is allocated fairly. For example, in a job share you need to make sure that both parties have equal responsibilities.

9. Make sure you are consistent in your approach
Keep records of who has applied to work flexibly, and what your response was. Monitor and evaluate how the new arrangements are working so you can put changes in place if necessary.

10. Other legislation
In general, the same legislation applies to employers offering flexible working patterns as to those adopting more conventional arrangements.

You should also take account of some specific protection for employees working flexibly. The employee is protected against dismissal or other forms of discrimination.
Under the flexible working rights, you must not dismiss an employee or treat them less favourably because they have applied to work flexibly or made a complaint to an Employment Tribunal, or because they intend to; in such a case, the 12-month qualifying period of employment is waived and dismissal will be classed as automatically unfair.

The working time and minimum wage regulations still apply. People who work on annual hours or term-time contracts are protected by the working time and minimum wage regulations, just like full-time employees.

For further advice on flexible working or any other employment law related matter, contact us on 01792 468684 or email mg@pgmsolicitors.co.uk

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