Women In Recruitment | Back to school and back to juggling your time – how flexible working can help
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Back to school and back to juggling your time – how flexible working can help

Over the past few weeks, as children across the country have returned to school, social media feeds have filled with pictures of children in their new school uniforms with several hashtags such as #proud and #backtoschool. Even Elton John jumped on the bandwagon, posting a picture of his sons with the caption ‘and away they go’. However, what we did not see behind these posts was the plight of many parents worried as to how they would juggle their 9am meetings with the school drop off?


BUT managing childcare responsibilities can be made easier with some flexibility from you and your employer.


The right to request to work flexibly


As of 30 June 2014, a statutory right under section 80F of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (‘ERA’) to request flexible working was implemented. This means that employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment can make a request for flexible working for any reason (it does not just have to be for childcare reasons) and their employer must respond to the employee with its decision within three months from the date of the request or a longer period if the parties agree.


Of course, there is nothing to prevent an employee from making an informal request for flexible working to their manager. However, the benefit of making a formal request under the statutory scheme is that it triggers a process by which a decision must be made within a certain time and any rejection must be based on one of eight prescribed reasons.


What might flexible working look like/ what changes can I request?


Under the statutory scheme, an employee may request a change to their terms of employment relating to the following:


  • The hours they work;
  • The times they are required to work; and
  • The place of their work i.e. this may be between their home and any of their employer’s workplaces.


Whilst the above may seem quite limited, in reality it encompasses much broader change then what you may anticipate; for example: home-working, job sharing, shift working, term time working and many other factors.


How do I make a request for flexible working under the statutory scheme?


To make a request for flexible working under the statutory scheme, the employee’s application must satisfy the following:


  • Be in writing and dated;
  • State that it is an application made under the statutory procedure;
  • Specify the change sought and why they wish this change to take effect;
  • Explain what effect (if any) the employee thinks the change would have on the employer and how this effect can be dealt with; and
  • State whether the employer has previously made an application to the employer and if so when. (This is because an employee can only make one request per 12 months under the statutory scheme).


How should a business deal with my request?


Although there is no statutory guidance on this point, Acas recommends that once an application has been received, a meeting should be organised with the employer to discuss the request. By having a meeting, an employer will be able to understand the reasons for the request, and potentially discuss with the employee a compromise that suits both parties.


If an employer does accept a request to work flexibly, this will result in a permanent change to the employee’s contract. The law requires that the employer must come to a decision regarding requests for flexible working hours within 3 months of a request.


Under which circumstances can my request be refused?


All requests for flexible working hours should be dealt with fairly and reasonably. Businesses must only reject applications if one of the following business reasons permits them to do so:


  • the burden of additional costs;
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff;
  • an inability to recruit additional staff;
  • a detrimental impact on quality;
  • a detrimental impact on performance;
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work; or,
  • planned structural changes to the business.


If an employee’s request is refused, and they do not believe that it was for one of the business reasons, then internal dispute procedures should be followed and the right to appeal should be granted.


Why should businesses allow flexible working?


A recent study by YouGov into flexible working firmly backed up the belief that flexibility is a benefit to both employees and employers. The study of 4,000 adults found that those working flexibly said it improved their motivation and encouraged them to stay in a job for longer. Paul Burrin, Vice President of Sage Business Cloud People, recently noted that “the 9-5 day as we know it doesn’t work anymore…if companies want to attract and keep the best, then they must adapt”.


In the 21st century, many businesses are set up to allow people to work from home for at least part of their working week. Tom Neil, a guidance writer from Acas, explains “most roles can accommodate some sort of flexible working arrangement…compromise from the employee and the employer can often lead to an outcome that works for everyone”.


Allowing flexible working may well lead to happier, more motivated and focused employees. It would therefore not be a surprise to see many businesses implementing flexible working hours for all employees over the course of the next few years.


This article is for general guidance and should not be used for any other purpose. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as legal advice. This article was prepared by Laura McHugh, who is a Senior Associate at JMW Solicitors LLP. To contact Laura, please email laura.mchugh@jmw.co.uk or call 0161 828 8322 to discuss any matter in this article or any recruitment issue at further length.