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Handling flexible working requests

When it comes to employment law, you may find yourself struggling to keep track of legislative changes.

When it comes to employment law, you may find yourself struggling to keep track of legislative changes and the number of flexible working requests your business receives.

At Lodders, we recently hosted our employment roadshow: a seminar aimed at helping people with questions surrounding employment law matters. The topic? Redundancies and flexible working requests.

Whether an employee asks to change from a full-time role to part-time hours, suggests job-sharing, or is hoping to pursue a hybrid or remote working arrangement, the demand for flexible working is not expected to change anytime soon. So, it is wise to familiarise yourself with the relevant legislative framework, be aware of the pitfalls  and  make sure that, when an employee submits such a request, you are best equipped to handle it.

Accepting a flexible working request requires a willingness on the part of the employer to adapt to the needs of the employee. Sometimes this is easier said than done and can cause a level of disruption to your business.

So, what can you do if a member of staff submits a flexible working request and you are not sure if granting the request would be problematic?

You may have legal grounds for rejecting the request  outright, such as its cost implications or the risk of a disproportionate effect on other staff. Alternatively it may be worth considering a flexible working trial.

Flexible working trials

At the employment roadshow seminar, we discussed the option of flexible working trials as an advisable measure to take in order to assess the implications and practicalities of a request.

Flexible working trials allow both your company and your employee to determine whether a new working arrangement would be suitable. For example, if an employee requests to work from home two days per week, trialling this first will help you to assess their productivity and efficiency on these days, while also considering how this affects your business.

Trials can, in theory, last for any period of time, but the majority might last for between  three to six months. It is strongly advisable that you lay out the terms of the flexible working trial in writing and get both parties to sign it, to ensure that there is evidence of what was agreed. That way, your employee cannot argue that that the arrangement was permanent if you establish grounds to deny the request after the trial.

As it stands, employees with at least 26 weeks of continuous employment within your business have a legislative right to make one claim per year for flexible working. In practice, they can still make flexible working requests more often than this. There are currently some proposed changes to the process.

Which legislative changes might come into effect?

At the employment roadshow, we also discussed legislative changes that, if approved, will affect how flexible working requests are handled. These potential changes are currently making their way through parliament.

Here are some of the key changes that were initially suggested in December 2022:

  • Employees can make two flexible working requests within a 12-month period
  • The right to make a claim will apply from day one of employment (there will no longer be a 26 week working requirement for employees to satisfy before making a flexible working request)
  • Employers will need to consult with the employee before rejecting any requests
  • Employers must respond to the request within two months
  • Removal of the requirement for employees to set out how the employer might handle the effects of their flexible working within the request

Whilst these legislative amendments have not yet come into force , employers should be aware that, if they do, they will affect how they respond to flexible working requests. Employers will also need to change their own Flexible Working policies to ensure they remain legally compliant.

Employment law roadshow

Would you benefit from attending our employment roadshow seminar? If so, you are in luck! The first seminar was held at our Stratford upon Avon office, but you can join the same seminar at our Cheltenham office on 8 June 2023, or at our Birmingham office on 7 September 2023. For more information or to book your free place, please contact Angela Howard at angela.howard@lodders.co.uk.

If you need advice on an employment law matter, please contact Damian Kelly

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