Dealing with a flexible working request

Correct procedure - what to do and when

There is a set procedure for dealing with requests for flexible working and following it will ensure that you fulfil your obligations as an employer. Hopefully, it will also make your employee satisfied that their request has been dealt with seriously.

There are eight key steps to take:

STEP 1 Employer receives request for flexible working STEP 2 Employer and employee meet within 28 days of request to discuss the application STEP 3 Employer writes to employee to notify them of decision with 14 days of meeting STEP 4 If application is accepted then employer and employee need to agree what arrangements they need to for the changes to take place. If application is rejected, employee needs to decide if they wish to appeal against the employer’s decision. If so, they must appeal in writing, setting out the grounds for their appeal STEP 5 Employer must receive the employee’s written appeal within 14 days STEP 6 Employer and employee must meet to discuss the appeal within 14 days STEP 7 Employer writes to employee notifying them of decision of appeal with 14 days of meeting STEP 8 If appeal is accepted then follow advice in step 4. If it is rejected, the employee must decide if they want to, and have a case for, going to an employment tribunal or binding arbitration.

It is important that you stick to the time limits of each section, not only to maintain a professional approach but to because if you don’t, the employee could use it against you at an employment tribunal.

Receiving requests

It is important that you educate your staff about how to make a request so that you are meeting all the requirements of procedure from the very start.

An application must be in writing (whether on paper, e-mail or fax). It must confirm that the employee has responsibility for the upbringing of the child and explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks the proposed change would have on you the employer and how, in their opinion, any such effect might be dealt with.

It should specify the type of flexible working pattern applied for and state the date on which it is proposed the change should become effective. It should also mention any previous applications that have been made by the employer and be dated.

Meetings

With 28 days of receiving a request you must hold a meeting with the employee to discuss it. The employee, if they wish, can be accompanied in the meeting by another member of staff. This person may consult with the employer but must not answer questions on their behalf.

You should try and use the meeting to discuss how the request might work or to explore alternatives if it can’t be met directly. It’s essential to try and appreciate your employees point of view and to listen to what they need and why.

After discussing the application and the options available, you must then inform the employee of your decision within 14 days of the meeting.

Making a decision

Remember, where possible you must allow parents to work flexibly. So if the request doesn’t interfere with your business then you should confirm your acceptance of their request in writing in the next 14 days and make the necessary changes to put it into place.

You can reject a request for flexible working on business grounds, but you must be able to explain your decision. Business grounds are a valid reason for refusal if the request will impact in any of the following ways:

  • Burden of additional costs

  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand

  • Inability to reorganise 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

  • Planned structural changes

If the request does interfere with your business in any of the above ways and you decide to reject it, you must provide written notification of this stating the business ground(s) for refusing the application, why it applies in the circumstances and provide details of the employee’s right to appeal.

If you take the time to explain to the employee why you are unable to accept their request it’s more likely they’ll be able to accept the outcome and be satisfied that their application has been considered seriously. In turn, they are unlikely to accept the decision unless you offer an explanation.

Of course, the employee won’t always accept your decision and will decide to appeal.

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