What is the law on flexible working?

Posted on August 17, 2022
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Over the past two years, the way that we work has changed dramatically, with more people than ever working flexibly. The coronavirus pandemic required those who could work from home to do so, and many industries and employers had to drastically adjust to flexible working and the law that surrounds it.

Two years is a long time – and employers have started to adapt and embrace their team’s new working patterns. However, with covid restrictions lifted, many are required to return to the office – while others are looking at permanent flexible and hybrid options.

Here we outline what flexible working is and the current flexible working law that all employers must adhere to.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is considered working outside of a ‘normal’ working pattern, both in terms of hours and location. Flexible working can include:

  • Staggered hours, starting and finishing work earlier/later
  • Flexitime arrangements, where employees work during specific core hours but otherwise arrange their own hours as suits
  • Compressed hours, with employees working the same number of hours over fewer days
  • Working some or all hours from home or another location
  • Job sharing, where two people alternate hours on a full-time role

Flexible working can be beneficial for both employees and employers. Offering a flexible working policy can help to attract and retain talent, reducing employee turnover and boosting morale. It also allows employees to have firmer control over their work/life balance and be more confident in making commitments such as becoming parents, pet ownership, or spending more time on their hobbies, again, reflecting well on the culture and ethics of the business in question.

A recent HSBC report found that 89% of participants cited a flexible working policy as motivation to be more productive at work.

Hybrid working is also becoming popular with businesses, allowing for the co-production and collaboration opportunities that a face-to-face setting offers while still reaping the benefits of flexible arrangements. Hybrid working generally sees employees splitting their time between their office or workplace and a remote location – often their home.

Is flexible working beneficial for employers?

Prior to the pandemic, there was arguably a misconception that employees who worked flexibly were either less productive, or less motivated to contribute to a business fully. Many employers were reluctant to give up the control and oversight of what their employees did throughout the day and overlooked the potential benefits.

However, faced with instructions to work from home and school closures, employees began to work not just remotely, but to change their hours to suit childcare and other needs. When covid forced so many of us to work flexibly, it became clear that the old assumptions were misguided. We’ve seen a continuation of productive output across a huge variety of sectors, as industries have adapted to remote and flexible working.

Now employees have seen that not only is flexible working possible, but it is often beneficial; that is why many are requesting to make these changes permanent with their employers.

What is the current law on flexible working?

Flexible working has existed as a legal concept since 2003, and in 2014 the law on flexible working was updated to allow all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous employment to request a flexible working arrangement with their employer. They do not need to give a specific reason for this new arrangement.

To request a change to their working pattern, employees must apply in writing, considering:

  • The details of the request
  • Any impact the request could have on the business, and any mitigations to limit negative impact
  • The date they would like to start
  • A statement that it is a statutory request for flexible working

If one of your employees has applied for a change in their working patterns, take a look at the Acas code of practice on how to consider and respond to this type of request. You should discuss the request as soon as possible, weighing the benefits of the proposed changes against any negative impacts.

Dealing with a request for flexible working

Requests for flexible working need to be dealt with properly. Employers are able to reject a request for flexible working on certain statutory grounds.

If your employee has made a flexible working request and you have failed to make a decision within 3 months, or if an employee takes issue with your response to the request, the employee may raise a formal complaint to an Employment Tribunal or to the ACAS arbitration scheme.

If you’re not sure what your next steps are, it’s always a good idea to seek legal advice from an employment law specialist.

If your employee brings a claim against you in respect of a flexible working request, you may be asked to reconsider the request, and potentially pay compensation as decided by the tribunal or arbitrator. Whilst failing to act in accordance with the Acas code of practice is not illegal, it will be considered if the employee makes a complaint to an employment tribunal.

Employees are legally protected against dismissal or constructive dismissal, or any less favourable treatment as a result of their flexible working request. The law on flexible working means that employees are legally entitled to request flexible working, for any reason, without discrimination.

Jefferies are here for you

If you’re faced with a flexible working request difficulty in Essex and are unsure how to proceed, get in touch with our law firm today, Our expert lawyers and solicitors are here to discuss your concerns and help you to understand what your legal options are.

You can contact our Southend or Chelmsford-based employment law team here or call 01702 332 311.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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