As a company owner you have to have a basic understanding of many different aspects of being an employer. Flexible working has become a hot issue in recent years and if you have employees asking to be placed on a flexible working schedule, you have to understand the issues at hand and know how to act. Here is everything you need to know about the law on flexible working.

What is Flexible Working?

If your company has a regular working schedule, for instance working hours of 9am-5pm each weekday, a flexible working schedule would be anything other than this set of times. It can mean a chance to the hours an individual employee works, or their place of work, as in they may request to work certain days/hours from home.

Flexible working hours can take the form of:

• Staggered hours contract – so different staff members can start and finish at different times during the day
• Annual hours contract – a set number of working hours that are not set from day-to-day
• Compressed hours contract – employees work the same number of hours over fewer days
• Flexitime contract – employees have to work during core hours but can start or finish at different times and make up the time on different days, always hitting their required working hours target

Other flexible working requests may take the form of a job-sharing agreement, where two people share the same role and split their time between home and work, or work alternate days/weeks. Shift work and part time work can also be requested, as can working from home either permanently or for certain days each week.

Who Qualifies for Flexible Working?

Any full time or part time employees who are contracted by your company directly (and not employed via an agency) and have at least 26 weeks’ service have the right to request flexible working hours. Any employee who has made a request for flexible working hours are not entitled to do so again for a period of 12 months. Those employees who have given up various employment rights in return for free shares in the business are not entitled to a flexible working contract.

The Process of a Flexible Working Contract Request

Any employee who wants to request flexible working conditions from you must apply in writing. Within the application itself, they must include the specific change they are requesting, including the date they would like to start, how they think the change will impact on the business, and the ability of the company to deal with the change, and a statement that it is a statutory request for flexible working.

As an owner of a business you must consider the request for flexible working in a reasonable manner. This includes:

• Meeting with the employee to discuss in detail the request (if the employee fails to attend two or more meetings without reasonable explanation you can dismiss the request)
• Allow the employee to attend a meeting with a work colleague if they wish
• Give great thought to the benefits and adverse impact on the business should the request be granted
• Make a prompt decision and inform the employee immediately (within 3 months of the request)
• Allow the right of appeal

There are two options available to you if you feel you cannot accept the request by your employee:

Negotiate – If you are unsure about the impact on your business but not entirely against the reasoning behind the request you can suggest a temporary/trial working arrangement under the new conditions. Alternatively you can agree to a period of trial, with a review session arranged at the end of it, with a view to agreeing to a more permanent contract.

Refuse – You must have a clear business reason for refusing a request for flexible working hours from an employee. This can include the burden of additional costs, an impact on the ability to meet customer demand as well as quality and performance, already planned structural changes to the team, an inability to reorganise work among other employees.

What are the Next Steps?

If you have accepted the request for flexible working you may have to make some changes. Firstly you will need to amend the contract of employment for that specific employee (if you have agreed to a trial period and review this should be stated within the contract).

Should the change lead to a different number of working hours you will have to amend pay and holiday entitlement as a result. For those employees spending some time working at home, health and safety requirements will still apply. (You can carry out a risk assessment or ask your employee to do so to ensure their workstation is safe, as is their electrical equipment etc).

The Impact on other Staff Members

When you accept a request for flexible working hours from one member of your staff you have to consider the impact these changes will have on other employees. Firstly, you have to ensure that there is adequate cover in place should the flexible employee be working fewer hours. You should also ensure that all work is allocated fairly, whether in a job share situation or part-time workers. Most of all it is recommended that you are frank and honest as early as possible about your decision and the ways in which you want to move forward so all employees understand what is happening.

The Benefits of Flexible Working

You must consider each request for flexible working on its individual merits, but there are some benefits to implementing it as a strategy.

• Flexible working hours is attractive to prospective employees
• You are more likely to retain staff and lower employee turnover
• Boost team morale and commitment
• Reduce absenteeism and boost productivity

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