How do you handle flexible working requests?

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Ahead of next month’s Flexible Working Awareness Day on May 6th, Jo Bostock, business adviser at the Forum of Private Business provides some useful tips on how to handle requests for flexible working.

Employment regulations allow all workers to ask their employer to consider changes to their contract terms and conditions to allow them to work flexibly, provided they have worked there for more than 26 weeks at the time they put in the request. Only one request can be made by the employee in any 12-month period.

A good starting point to dealing with flexible working requests is to establish a clear policy on how these will be handled. You may decide a written policy is not necessary, but you should ensure that all your employees know how to apply and what steps they must follow.

By law, all employee requests must be made in writing, include the date, the proposed changes, potential impact on the business and how these might be dealt with, and details of previous requests.

As soon as you’ve received a request it’s best to arrange to meet to discuss this with the employee as soon as possible, as the law requires that any flexible working requests are dealt with in a timely manner, usually within 3 months of receiving the initial request, including an appeal. This can be extended if agreed by both parties.

Sometimes a discussion may not be needed if you are happy to accept the request, but you may want to arrange a discussion to ensure that the changes proposed are the best solution for you and the employee.

It is also a chance to discuss the changes the employee is seeking and how these can be accommodated. It should be done at a convenient time and location for both parties and its also good practice to allow the employee to be accompanied by a union representative or work colleague.

You should consider the request carefully but an employer is under no legal obligation to grant a request for flexible working if it cannot be accommodated on the following grounds:

· The burdens of any additional costs are unacceptable to the organisation

· The employer is unable to reorganise the workload among existing staff

· The change would have a detrimental impact on quality

· The employer feels the changes would have a detrimental impact on the businesses ability to meet customer demand

· The changes would have a detrimental impact on individual or company performance

· There is insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work

· Where the employer has planned changes to the business (e.g. restructuring) and considers the request will not fit into these plans.

Having considered the requested changes, you must let the employee know your decision. Ideally this should be in writing to avoid any confusion later, and where the request is granted you should also set out the changes that will be made to your employee’s terms and conditions. In addition, you should also include details of how the employee can appeal the decision if they so wish.

Multiple requests should be dealt with in the order they are submitted and your decision on which are more deserving must not based on value judgements. Also for very small businesses, granting one request may mean that you have to turn down a second request based on changing work situation.

Remember that expert advice is on hand from a variety of sources and specialist advice on employment issues is often available through membership organisations. Members of the Forum of Private Business for example have access to advice on a range of business issues and the organisation publishes comprehensive employment law and health and safety guides.

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