Flexible Working

A flexible working request is a formal request to adapt an employee’s working pattern. Popular requests are to work from home, to work part time, to work compressed hours, to have longer lunch breaks, or to use flexitime to work different hours each week.

Under the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023, there are new rules regarding flexible working requests which are made on or after 6 April 2024.

The main changes are as follows:

  • Previously, employees had to have been employed for at least 26 weeks before making a request. Now it is a day one right, which they can exercise straight away.
  • The amount of time you, as an employer, have to deal with a request has been reduced from three months to two months.
  • Employees can now make two requests in any 12-month period. Before, it was only one request per year.
  • The requirement for an employee to suggest how any resulting problems can be addressed has been dropped.

It is important to note that, as before, there is only the right to request flexible working, not necessary to have it.

Employers should give genuine consideration to whether granting the request is possible. Employees who work flexibly are often more productive and motivated, and happier in their jobs. If you agree to a request, you need to confirm the changes in a new contract or a letter.

If you need to turn down a request, you should fully explain why, and it has to be for one or more of the following official reasons:

  • extra costs that will damage the business
  • the work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • people cannot be recruited to do the work
  • flexible working will affect quality
  • flexible working will affect performance
  • the business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • the business is planning changes to the workforce

In certain circumstances, if you turn down a flexible working request, an employee may bring a tribunal claim against you. Examples of such claims are that you didn’t follow proper procedure, you took too long, you based your decision on incorrect facts, or you rejected their request for a reason other than those reasons listed above. A tribunal may then tell you to reconsider the request and may also award the employee up to eight weeks’ pay as compensation.

There is also the possibility that certain employees could claim that you discriminated against them. The most common example would be a female employee who makes a request for childcare purposes. Since women typically still have primary responsibility for childcare, turning down a request may constitute indirect sex discrimination. Other examples are religious discrimination for an employee who does not wish to work on days of religious significance, or disability discrimination where a change to a working pattern would be considered a reasonable adjustment.

If you have doubts about a new working pattern, you can agree a trial period with the employee, or suggest a different working arrangement as a compromise. Once an agreement is reached, a new contract is signed and there is no right for either party to go back to the previous arrangement.

If you are unsure whether to agree to a flexible working request, please contact us for advice by emailing enquiries@perspectivehr.co.uk or by phoning 01392 247436.

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