Originally, the right to request flexible working was a family-related right. In order to qualify to make a request, it was a criterion that the employee had to be a parent of a child under a particular age or have caring responsibilities and the reason for the request had to be in relation to providing the care.
However, this criterion was removed in June 2014 and the statutory right to make a request was made available to all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous employment.
When can you refuse a flexible working request?
Whether you can refuse a flexible working request depends on a number of criteria. Firstly, any flexible working requests you receive should be in made in writing, should state if any previous applications have been made and details of dates should be provided.
Each employee can make one statutory flexible working request every 12 months, which can only be refused on one of the particular reasons set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996.
If an employee makes more than one application in any 12 month period, then you can refuse it on that ground.
The other statutory grounds for refusing flexible working applications are:
- The burden of additional costs;
- Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
- Inability to re-organise work among existing staff;
- Inability to recruit additional staff;
- Detrimental impact on quality;
- Detrimental impact on performance;
- Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or
- Planned structural changes.
Dealing with flexible working requests
You should deal with the request in a reasonable and timely manner.
Whilst the procedure for dealing with a flexible working request is not set in stone, a Code of Practice provides guidance on what a reasonable procedure would be.
If the employer fails to handle the application in a reasonable manner, then the employee could make a claim to an Employment Tribunal.
You should speak to the employee about the request, preferably in a face-to-face meeting but this is not an obligation.
In order to be most flexible, discuss with the employee any possible variations that the employee may be able to agree to should you decide that you cannot accommodate the request.
When deciding on changes requested, make sure that you consider the beneficial, as well as, the detrimental effects on the business.
Discuss any potential adverse effects of the requested working patterns and ask the employee how they think these may be overcome.
What to do following your decision
If you decide to grant the flexible working, you should provide the employee with the agreed start date and other details in writing. If your decision is to reject the request, then you should identify and notify the employee of the clear business reason.
When taking the decision to deny a change of working conditions, an employer must hold a belief that one or more of the grounds listed above apply.
The employer is under no obligation to grant such a request if it cannot be accommodated by the business.
Creating and implementing a Flexible Working Policy in the workplace will inform all employees how to make a flexible working request, to whom a request should be made, and the procedure which will be followed.
In your policy you should also include the potential grounds for refusal and the right to an appeal to keep in line with best employer practice.