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Focus on flexible working policies

In readiness for National Work Life Week from 1 - 5 October, now is the time to consider whether your flexible working policies are fit for purpose. In this article in our Breaking Down the Handbook series we highlight what such policies should cover.

Background

Working Families is the UK's leading work-life balance organisation. It helps working parents and carers and their employers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work. Each year, National Work Life Week takes place to highlight the need for both employers and employees to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance (accepting that this should not just be a focus for one week of the year). Employers can use this week to provide, or even bolster, their associated activities for staff, and showcase their own approach to flexible and other work-life policies and practices.

As highlighted in our recent flexible working article, working flexibly is key to maintaining a motivated and loyal workforce and is essential to attracting diverse talent. Flexible working and family leave policies are key to supporting a work-life balance. However, it is important to recognise that flexible working means many things to many different people. Some may wish to work specific hours to suit family needs, while those without family commitments may still wish to have flexibility in their working lives to suit their own personal commitments and/or other work-life priorities. Some may have certain skills which are best used at certain times of the day, week or year. The important thing for employers is to understand that everyone is different and that a set of rigid rules won't necessarily benefit their business in the long-run and this should be reflected in any policies. Both the aging and millennial workforce are clearly changing the way we all work.

Flexible working policies

Flexible working policies are not new, so they must be continually adapted to suit the changing needs of an employer's business alongside the expectations of their workforce. This is especially so when traditional working hours and patterns are no longer the norm and there is so much commentary and statistics in existence confirming the benefits of a flexible workforce; being good for business, the economy and society as a whole.

It is therefore helpful for employers to have relevant and clear policies in place which are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that all employees know of the approach taken by their employer in this area. Additional guidance, support and role-modelling from management are also key to the success of flexible working practices.

Content of flexible working policies

Any such policy should include:

  • Eligibility requirements. Every employee has the right to request flexible working provided that they have 26 weeks' continuous employment service and have not made a formal request to work flexibly in the last 12 months. This is a statutory right, so, as a minimum, an employer should make their employees aware of it in a policy document. Many employers also allow all employees and workers to make informal requests (see below) to work flexibly where they would otherwise not be able to do so under the statutory scheme. The conditions attaching to any requests should clearly be set out in the policy.
  • A non-exhaustive list of the various options available for flexible working. There are many options which can be considered under flexible working policies, including reduced or varied working hours, days or weeks (including part-time working, compressed hours, annualised hours or flexi-hours), change of location (including homeworking and other agile or remote working arrangements), and/or job-sharing arrangements.
  • An informal procedure, for those who cannot make a statutory request, or for those who don't necessarily want to make a permanent variation to their working pattern. It is reasonable for the employer to set out an application and decision making procedure to be followed in these circumstances.
  • A formal procedure setting out the way in which a formal request to work flexibly must be made, and who it should be made to. The statutory right to request procedure is actually quite complicated, especially to those who have never made one before. It involves submitting a written and dated application, which must contain prescribed information, including:
    • confirmation that it is statutory request to work flexibly and that the employee is eligible to make a request;
    • clear reasons for the request, whether that be for family reasons, for reasons connected to a protected characteristic or otherwise. In respect of protected characteristics, examples may include reasonable adjustments because of disability for the employee making the request or for someone they care for;
    • as much information as possible about both the current and desired working patterns, the effect the changes will have on the work undertaken by the employee and the effect that it will have on others such as the employee's colleagues. Employees are often encouraged to set out how they believe any perceived barriers to their application can be overcome;
    • the date on which the employee wishes the change to take effect; and
    • a statement that the employee has / has not made a formal application in the past and, if so, when.
  • It is helpful to include in the policy a standard form for employees to complete to ensure that all of this information is covered when they make a request.
  • Confirmation that the employer will consider the request reasonably and what this entails. Often employers will arrange a meeting(s) with the employee to discuss the request before making any decision, ensuring that the request made is suitable for both parties. At the meetings alternative suggestions can be made and/or compromises can be reached.
  • Confirmation that any formal request will be considered and concluded, including any appeal, within a three month period unless otherwise agreed.
  • Details of an employee's right to be accompanied at any meeting held as part of the formal process. An employee has the right to be accompanied by a work colleague only, not a trade union representative.
  • Confirmation that the employer will only reject a formal request for one of the eight business reasons (as set out in our recent flexible working article. Where an employer is unable to agree to an employee's request, full details of the reasons for the rejection should be set out in writing and the employee should be notified of their right of appeal.
  • Reference to the fact that the proposed working arrangements may initially be accepted as part of a trial period, to ensure that the requested change meets both the employee's and the employer's needs.
  • Confirmation that, subject to any trial period, where a change is accepted, it will result in a permanent variation of the employee's contract of employment and that the employee will not be able to make another request for a further 12 months from the date of the employee's recent request.
  • Confirmation that anyone making a statutory request will not be subjected to any detrimental treatment, such as losing out on opportunities for career progression.

Other points to consider

ACAS has also produced both a statutory code of practice: handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly and an ACAS guide: the right to request flexible working.

As stated previously, employers must properly and reasonably consider all requests for flexible working, taking into account the different ways in which employees seek to work nowadays, and thinking about how such applications and a flexible workforce may benefit their business.

Disclaimer

This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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