Flexible working: a short guide

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The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in the use of flexible working arrangements, mainly in the form of allowing staff to work from home. Nevertheless, there are other types of flexible working, including part-time working, flexitime (choosing when to start and finish work around ‘core’ hours), and job sharing. As the benefits of these arrangements become more apparent, uptake is likely to grow compared to pre-pandemic levels.

How can a request be made?

Currently, an employee must have worked for an employer for a continuous period of 26 weeks in order to make a statutory application. There have been proposals to make this a right from day one of employment.

It should be noted that only one request can be made within a 12-month period. The application must be in writing, dated and state that it is a statutory request for flexible working. Employers may have forms for their employees to use to make requests.

Details of the changes should be provided, along with the date on which the arrangements are being proposed to start. In addition, an explanation of how the changes would affect the business and how they may be dealt with is required. This will depend on the type of flexible working requested, but does not need to cover every potential impact. Finally, if a previous application has been made, this should be stated, including the date of that application.

Those ineligible to make a statutory application can make a non-statutory one. This can be made at any time and there is no restriction on the amount of applications in a 12-month period. No required format is prescribed, but ideally it would be in writing, dated and explain the changes requested and impacts on the business as in a statutory application.

What happens after the request?

The employer has 3 months to make a final decision, or longer if this is agreed. There is no deadline for non-statutory applications.

If a statutory request is accepted, the employee’s contract will change permanently. It is best practice for an employer to provide a written response setting out the changes and the date on which they are to begin. 

Conversely, a request may be turned down for a business reason. These include too many added costs; an inability to recruit more staff or to reorganise the work amongst existing staff; negative effects on quality, performance or the ability to meet customer demand; a lack of work during the hours proposed; or structural changes. 

There is no legal right of appeal. A grievance may be raised instead if the employer does not have an appeals process. If an agreement cannot be reached, depending on the circumstances there may be further options to take the case to an employment tribunal or to use the arbitration scheme provided by Acas.

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