September 14, 2017

How to Turn Legal Obligations into Effective Flexible Working Practices

The reality of implementing flexible working requests has come under scrutiny from the TUC, after a survey of 1,000 young parents revealed significant challenges in arranging childcare around their working hours.

The survey targeted young parents aged between 20-35 with regards to flexible working arrangements. The parents had at least one child aged between 1-16-years-old and household earnings of less than £28,000.

All reported that it was difficult to organise childcare around their working hours.

What does the law say about flexible working requests?

Legally, employees who have at least six months’ continuous service can make one request per year for a change to their working hours or place of work. The request does not have to be in order to manage childcare arrangements; it can be for a host of reasons like pursuing a hobby or interest. However, lots of parents will make requests in order to manage childcare commitments.

The employer’s duty is to deal with such requests in a “reasonable manner’’. There is no obligation on the employer to agree to the request. However if the employer is unable to accommodate the request it must be for one of seven statutory business reasons.

The legislation clearly states that employees should not be dismissed or subjected to any detriment for any reason related to the fact that they have submitted or are proposing to submit a request for flexible working.

Time to make flexible working normal practice

It is therefore alarming that 2-out-of-5 of the 1,000 parents who participated in the TUC survey and had asked for flexible work arrangements said they were “penalised” as a result of doing so – with examples including fewer hours, worse shifts and even loss of employment altogether.

Ben Wilson, executive director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has called for a radical overhaul of company cultures to make flexible working the norm.

“We have been calling for all jobs to be advertised as available for flexible working to remove the barriers people, particularly parents, face to increased pay and fulfilling careers.”

An employee’s request to change their working hours does not mean a reduction in that person’s commitment to the job or organisation.

Managers who adopt a positive attitude towards flexible working are likely to find that their operational needs can be met more successfully.

Embracing flexible working is more likely to lead to a host of positive outcomes:

  • Employees who work flexibly are less likely to take time off work, for example due to childcare issues, stress related conditions or family problems
  • Those who work hours that suit them are also less likely to experience stress than those who are obliged to work fixed hours at the workplace
  • Giving employees a reasonable degree of choice over working hours and patterns is likely to improve employee morale and motivation resulting in more loyal and productive staff
  • There will be a wider pool for recruitment as many experienced people who are unable or unwilling to work full time may be available to work on a part time or job share basis, or work from home
  • Experienced staff may be more likely to return to work following maternity or paternity leave or a career break
  • Valued employees who are either unwilling to continue to work full time or fixed hours can be retained

More guidance on the latest HR & employment law legislation

How to put flexible working requests into practice

Requests should be in writing, stating the date of the request and whether any previous application has been made and the date of that application.

If you’re not sure if something will work for your business why not have a trial period?

Document clearly that the new working pattern has been put in place as a temporary variation to the employee’s terms and conditions. The start and end date of the trial period should be stated, along with the changes that have been agreed.

Requests and appeals must be considered and decided upon within three months of the receipt of the request. If you decide on a trial period you may need to agree to extend the statutory time limit pending the outcome of the trial period.

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About the author

Donna Chadbone

Donna completed her post graduate studies in Human Resource Management (MCIPD) and then spent 7 years working as an in house HR Consultant in the corporate financial services sector. She has worked with a range of clients from the engineering, aerospace, manufacturing, service, leisure, education, construction and care industries.