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Supporting Flexible Working

Most employers are seeing an increase in flexible working requests post Covid with employees keen to remain home based or reduce their hours or perhaps the timings of their work pattern.

Granted, such requests can at first glance appear to be difficult to accommodate, but the key is to get creative - negotiate, compromise, and consider the key advantages to implementing more flexible arrangements.

Employers who embrace the benefits of flexible working have found that they have improved employee retention, greater engagement, with more productive, happy, and motivated staff, resulting in lower levels of sickness absence.

In today’s recruitment market where there are more jobs than candidates, employers who demonstrate understanding the importance of work life balance and listening to their employee needs, gain the upper hand in attracting top talent.

Retention of loyal staff and getting the right candidates when recruiting leads directly to cost savings. We’re not just talking about cost to recruit, but productivity dips during notice periods and during the induction periods of new starters which impacts the bottom line. You may even be able to save office space or furniture costs with job share or home working arrangements.

Reducing absence

Enabling working from home or flexible hours can reduce levels of sickness absence in the workplace by creating a work life balance that allows employees to juggle the demands of life both inside and outside of work. Even permitting home working occasionally or a temporary change the hours of place of work can have a significant impact on an employee’s engagement and ability to cope.

Save money

Something which is frequently overlooked is the cost-saving opportunity presented by flexible working arrangements. If you have several staff who are not in the office full time, you may decide you don’t need to provide them all with permanent desks and can save on office space by using a hot desking arrangement.

Also, staff reducing their hours (unless it is a job share arrangement) usually reduce their salary by the proportionate amount, and if the work can be managed in shorter hours, this obviously reduces your overall salary bill.

It is important not to be short-sighted, and if you can agree requests where possible, and ideally create a culture in your workplace where flexible working is fully encouraged and supported.

While we would encourage all employers to agree flexible working requests, if possible, we recognise that it can be difficult, and it may not always be practical to do so.

Even if a request must be refused, open and honest dialogue will help to strengthen relationships within the business. By treating flexible working requests seriously, the outcome can be a win-win situation for everyone.

I don’t think it will work but have no proof, can I insist on a trial period?

If you are unsure whether the proposal will work, you can propose a trial period of say 12 to 24 weeks to assess whether it could work. You can’t insist on a trial, so if the employee is not agreeable, you will need to decide if it is to be approved or declined. Trying out an arrangement can be helpful to both sides, giving the employee the chance to prove their proposed arrangement works. However, a temporary trial may not be possible if the employee needs to make childcare arrangements in advance for example.

Can I simply refuse a request?

You must consider requests from employees who have 26 or more weeks’ service, but you are not obliged to agree it as long as you have a justifiable business reasons for your refusal.

What if previous approved requests are similar?

You may be concerned about precedents, both in terms of wondering if there is already a precedent that must be followed or in terms of being reluctant to agree new requests in case a precedent is set for future requests.

In fact, each request should be considered on an individual basis, so the fact that you have agreed something for one employee doesn’t then compel you to agree similar requests by other staff later down the line. Of course, if an employee making a request to reduce his or her hours can see that a similar arrangement agreed previously works really well, they may refer to this as evidence that their request is workable.

But sometimes the opposite is true, for example in a small organisation where staffing is often tight, it’s reasonable not to agree homeworking for an employee if you already have someone in the same team homeworking and having two based at home would leave you short-handed. So, in that situation the fact that a similar request has been agreed previously is actually a factor in refusal of a new request.

As long as your refusal fits into one of the specific business reasons you are allowed to use, it is fine to refuse requests similar to those agreed before, and when considering a new request, you don’t need to worry that you’ll be held to similar requests in future.

Do I have to give a reason for refusing?

Yes, you do. Although employers are not obliged to agree to requests, they must consider them carefully and properly, and if they need to refuse the request, give at least one of eight specific appropriate business reasons for that refusal.

Those reasons are as follows: the burden of additional costs an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff an inability to recruit additional staff a detrimental impact on quality a detrimental impact on performance detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work a planned structural change to your business.

As well as giving one or more of the above reasons, you need to explain why that reason applies in the circumstances. For example, if you are citing a burden of additional costs, you should explain what these costs will be.

Should I allow an appeal?

Yes ideally. There is no legal requirement to offer an appeal but it does demonstrate that you have dealt with a request in a reasonable manner. Be aware:

Even if an employee does not have the requisite length of service to make a flexible working request, they could bring a claim under discrimination legislation, for example, because they are female and more women than men are responsible for primary care within their family unit; or because they have a disability and employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

If you would benefit from additional advice about handling flexible working requests, please get in touch via or 07970 260104.

Check out other Blogs in our series:

Blog | Robinson Grace HR Consultancy | Swindon

The content of our blogs is intended for general information only and does not replace legal or other professional advice.

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