On our sister site AccountingWEB.co.uk, Liz Iles outlines the key legislative and cultural points employers should bear in mind when offering flexible working arrangements to staff. The regulations outlined below are specific to the UK; however the concept of allowing employees to work from home is an interesting one – regardless of the country.
To qualify for the right to request, employees must have continuous service of 26 weeks and either have responsibility for a child aged 16 or under (18 if the child is disabled) or be the carer of an adult aged 18 or over. Employees do not have automatic rights to work flexibly, instead only qualify to request for flexible working. Employers then have a duty to give serious considerations to these requests.
An employee must apply to the employer in writing. If made in relation to a child, the application must be proposed before the child’s 17th birthday (or 18th if disabled). It must also be dated, specify that it’s made under the right to request flexible working and explain how the employee’s relationship with the child or person being cared for meets the qualifying conditions. Employees must also outline details of the proposed change and when it would ideally come into effect, explaining the effects it is likely to have on the employer and suggest how it can be dealt with. If a previous application has been made, employees must specify this.
An employer that receives a request has a duty to give it serious consideration and follow a set procedure:
- Within 28 days of receiving an application, the employer must hold a meeting with the employee to discuss it. If sent by post, it will be considered the day on which the letter is received. And if the person who considers the application is on leave, the 28 day period may be extended.
- At the meeting the employee has the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker. They may address the meeting and confer with the employee during the proceeding but cannot answer questions on the employee’s behalf.
- Within 14 days of the meeting, the employer must write to the employee with a decision. If the proposal is accepted, the employer must set out the new work pattern and when it will take effect.
- If the employer refuses the request, the letter must give reasons why, which could include the burden of additional costs, inability to reorganise work among existing staff, a detrimental impact on performance and quality or an inability to recruit additional staff.
- The letter must also state the appeal procedure.
Any flexible working practices will be a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment, unless otherwise agreed. Employees have no right to revert to their original working arrangement, and similarly, employers have no statutory right to require the employee to revert to their previous working pattern.
In the future, working hours will more likely become a negotiable feature of many employment contracts. Employees have more rights to demand flexible hours and greater expectations to exercise those rights to fit into other interests and responsibilities. The challenge for employers is to accommodate the needs of the workforce without sacrificing effective management and business growth.
Liz Iles is a senior employment consultant at Croner.