As people return to work, more companies and their employees are enquiring about flexible working policies. If you haven’t yet set a policy for your company, our employment law specialist Philippa Wood sets out some important factors to consider before putting a policy in place.
Employers are in the main, now accepting that employees tend overall, to be more productive when working flexibly. Having that situation forced upon them during the pandemic has changed the whole attitude of the British SME industry – to its advantage.
Flexible Working as a Right
Flexible working is a right for all employees, even when there isn’t a policy in place. Hesitant employers who are yet to offer flexible working to their staff would do well to draw up a clear policy before a raft of requests and challenges arise that end up being detrimental to the business.
Flexible Working According to the Law
At the outset, you must decide what you want from this change. There is a difference between day-to-day, informal flexible working and flexible working according to the law. It is important to realise that under the legal right to request flexible working, once the employer has accepted and agreed to changes to the employee’s terms and conditions, they can’t go back.
Managing Employees Expectations
If, as an employer, you are feeling your way towards a more flexible approach but aren’t sure whether you want permanent changes, a circular communication to all staff can work, setting out what is expected, what is allowed and stating clearly that these changes are subject to review and amendment at the company’s discretion. Always be aware, of course, that, in most cases and without good business reason, you must not favour one employee above another.
Good business reasons are also considered in legal requests for flexible working.
When an Employer can Refuse a Flexible Working Request
Employees may see recent trends as a licence to ask for whatever combination of flexible arrangements they want, to work around childcare or other responsibilities. Good employers will want to help but employees’ expectations need to be managed and a clear flexible working policy is invaluable.
An employer can refuse a request on the basis of:
As long as one or a combination of these reasons can be justified, flexible working can be refused, again with an eye towards not being partisan or discriminatory.
There is no doubt that, post-pandemic, the more flexible approach is here to stay and employers are largely benefitting from the shift as more employees look for flexible working opportunities. If you are thinking of creating a policy for your business, as always, please take legal advice before you take the plunge.
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