Handling flexible working requests

Dentons associate Claire McKee outlines the rules around work flexibility, as well as some of the potential benefits

Claire McKee is an associate in the People, Reward and Mobility team at Dentons.

by Claire McKee

What is the right to request to work flexibly?

After 26 weeks of continuous service, all employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements.

For example, employees may request a reduction in hours in order to ease the burden of any caring responsibilities, childcare commitments or simply to achieve the much sought after “work-life balance”.

Employers must deal with a flexible working request in a reasonable manner and may refuse it if there are specific business reasons for doing so.

What are the business reasons for refusal?

If a business is going to refuse an application for flexible working, it needs to be able to rely on one (or more) of eight specific statutory grounds: the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; detrimental impact on performance; insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or planned structural changes.

Businesses must deal with the request in a reasonable manner, which would normally include meeting an employee to discuss the request, looking at the benefits of the requested changes for the employee and the employer’s business and weighing those against any adverse business impact of implementing them.

Are there any “business benefits” to flexible working?

Employers who embrace flexible working will, arguably, be in a position to recruit, retain and progress the best talent. The Modern Families Index 2019 finds that flexible workers are more likely to be engaged.

The Institute for Employment Studies and The Work Foundation conclude that flexible workers generate 43% more revenue and improve performance by 20%, compared to disengaged employees.

More widespread, embedded and gender-equal, part-time and flexible working will help create a level playing field for parents and carers at work – especially women. It will allow working parents and carers to find suitable jobs and progress in their careers, and can help to provide an alternative to low-paid, insecure work.

In terms of ill health, the 2019 CIPD Health and Well-Being at Work survey found that flexible working can reduce absence rates as it allows employees to manage disability and long-term health conditions, as well as supporting their mental health and stress.

Further, implementing flexible working policies that enable change is one of the top suggestions for employers looking to improve their gender pay gap (if you have a workforce of more than 250 employees).

If you have identified that one of the reasons behind your organisation’s gender pay gap is that more women are employed on part-time working arrangements than men, it may be time to consider implementing policies and job descriptions encouraging flexible working.

This disparity is often because there are few senior roles available for those who wish to work part-time. Emphasising that more senior roles can be carried out on a flexible basis could lead to a change in this culture.

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