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How should employers respond to a flexible working request

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Over the next few weeks, we will be writing a series of employment law briefings for employers and employees.  In this first one Susan Mayall, from our Employment Law team considers flexible working requests.

As an employer, it is likely that at some time you will have to deal with a flexible working request. Any employee who has worked for you for 26 months or more and has not made such a request in the last 12 months has a right to make such a request, and you have a duty to respond in a ‘reasonable manner’.

ACAS flexible working request

There are no statutory guidelines for this, however, ACAS has suggested the best way to go about this, which Susan expands on below:

  • First of all, you should arrange to talk with your employee as soon as possible after receiving their written request. (However, if you already intend to approve their request at this stage, holding a meeting with them should not be necessary.)
  • You should inform your employee that they are allowed to be accompanied by a work colleague at this discussion (and at any appeal discussion).
  • Meeting with your employee will give you a better idea of the changes they are looking for and how those might benefit both themselves and your business.
  • You should always aim to keep the discussion in a private place where what is said will not be overheard.
  • If you have arranged a meeting to discuss an employee’s request, including an appeal meeting, and the employee fails to attend this and a rearranged meeting without a good reason, you are no longer required to consider the request and should inform the employee of this.

As an employer, you must carefully consider the benefits of the request changes for the employee and weigh these up against any adverse business impact of implementing them. In doing so you must not discriminate unlawfully against your employee. Once you have made your decision, you must inform the employee as soon as possible and should do so in writing so as to avoid future confusion over what was decided.

If you have decided to accept the request, or wish to accept it with modifications, you should discuss how and when the changes might best be implemented with the employee.

Refusing a flexible working request

You may only refuse the request for one or more of the reasons set out in the legislation, this includes:

  • if it would be too costly to accommodate the change.
  • if the change would negatively impact the businesses ability to meet customer demands.
  • inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
  • inability to recruit additional staff.
  • if the change would make a detrimental impact on the quality of work.
  • if the change would make a detrimental impact on performance.
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  • planned structural changes.

If you wish to refuse the request, you should give your employee the option to appeal the decision. Allowing the employee to do so may reveal new information. All requests, and any appeals, must be considered and decided on within the three-month decision period. Employers may however agree with your employee to extend this for a longer period.

How can we help

Pearson's Employment Law Solicitors offer support with HR and legal advice for a number of businesses in Greater Manchester. If you are a business owner or HR professional in need of employment law advice contact our employment lawyers on 0161 785 3500 or email employment@pearsonlegal.co.uk.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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