How to navigate the minefield of flexible working
A few months ago my daughter returned to work after maternity leave. She wanted to work less than full time, in order to spend more time with their daughter.
They were also keen to minimise the cost of nursery school care, whilst retaining my daughter's job as a career rather than a pin money job.
This is the latest advice given to employers, for when a member of staff requests flexible working:
- Don't confuse flexible working with part-time working: flexible working can encompass a change to working hours, but may mean place of work. The options include compressed hours, term-time working, flexi-time, job sharing the home working to name a few.
- Deal with requests reasonably: there is no obligation for employers to grant an employee's request, only to deal with it in a reasonable manner. Make sure the final decision is based on genuine business drivers rather than attitudes.
- Consider carefully whether to ask the reason for the request: employees are not obliged to tell you but it may be beneficial for them to do so. It may allow you to clarify for example, whether a temporary, rather than permanent contractual change is preferable, or whether another option might be more appropriate.
- Don't make value judgements about the most deserving request: consider requests on their merits in the context of your business and if your business can accommodate the request, rather than focusing on the reason for the request. That avoids getting into discrimination territory.
- Consider a trial period, instead of rejecting a request outright: if you are unsure what the effect of a flexible working arrangement will be on the business, and what impact it may have on other employees, a trial period for a short fixed period can help to gauge whether the arrangement is sustainable.
- A refusal must be based on one of eight statutory business reasons: otherwise employers might find themselves on the receiving end of a claim. These reasons are the burden of additional cost; detrimental ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality or performance; insufficient of work during the periods the employee wishes to work; or planned structural changes.
- Deal with competing requests on a first come first served basis: this is the fairest approach and business needs and context must remain key. If you decide to ask staff already working flexibly if they are willing to vary their arrangements to accommodate further requests, remember that agreeing to the first request constituted a permanent contractual change.