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Every September, thousands of children take the leap from pre-school into Reception, and parents are presented with a logistical challenge: The School Run. With the school day now starting at 8.50 am, and most workplaces expecting employees in by 9.00 am, some parents may need to turn to submitting a flexible working request to their employer to enable them to cope with it.
The right to request flexible working was extended to all employees who had 26 weeks' service in 2014. Prior to this, only those with children under 17 (or those with disabled children under 18) and those who had responsibilities as a carer could request flexible working. However, a recent CIPD survey found that 1 in 10 organisations (mainly SMEs) do not offer any flexible working options. Another survey highlighted that 1 in 5 working mothers would quit their jobs if their flexible working request after maternity leave was rejected. Many managers remain confused and unclear on how to deal with requests, which leaves their business vulnerable to staffing issues or even discrimination claims.
The legislation states that employers can only reject a flexible working request on the basis of any of the following reasons:
it will result in extra costs that will damage the business;
the work cannot be reorganised among other staff members;
extra people cannot be recruited to do the work;
flexible working will affect quality of work and performance;
the business will not be able to meet customer demand;
there is a lack of work to do during the proposed working times; or
the business is planning changes to the workplace.
Employers should ensure their staff are trained on this and know that, although employees have the right to request flexible working, this does not translate into 'all employees have the right to work flexibly'. An employer must seriously consider a request, but they do not have to approve the request. They could also present the employee to alternatives to the original flexi-working proposal instead of an outright refusal. Having a clear policy setting this out can ensure requests are handled properly. The policy should also set out the requirements placed on the employee in making their request. For example, it needs to be in writing, lay out the changes proposed and the effects the changes may have, and how they can be addressed.
The law requires employers to complete the flexible working process within a 3-month period, including any appeal process. It is good practice, therefore, to respect to any requests promptly. You should also arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss the proposed changes, and respond in writing with the outcome to the request and any agreed changes together with a start date as soon as possible after the meeting. Should it be impractical to complete the process within 3 months, you must obtain agreement from the employee to extend this period.
Once these changes become permanent, if you can agree to the changes the impact on staff can be significant. However, the law recognises that not all business can accommodate flexi-working requests.