One observation about the lockdown that we have often heard is that it accelerated changes that were on the way before any of us had heard of COVID-19.
Increased working from home is the most obvious of those. Many employers who may not have considered remote working as a possibility before have now seen the benefits it brings and the challenges it can present.
In some ways the lockdown amounted to a mass working from home trial. Many employers will have embraced the change, and some have even closed offices as a result, marking a shift to permanent remote working.
However, some will be less keen, and would prefer employees to return to the workplace as life begins to return to normal. In some cases, employers and employees may feel differently – and this is where it is necessary to tread carefully.
We anticipate that businesses will see an increase in requests for flexible working arrangements over the coming months – and these will be more difficult to turn down as workers believe they have “proven” that it is possible to do their job remotely. It’s important to know what employees can ask for, and how managers should respond.
Who can make a flexible working request?
By law, managers must consider a request for flexible working arrangements from any employee who has more than 26 weeks’ service.
Eligible employees only have the right to make one such request per year. You can choose to consider requests from employees who don’t have the required length of service, or who have already made a request in the calendar year, but there is no requirement to do so.
What can employees ask for?
Flexible working could cover a huge range of changes to working days and hours. At any time employees could ask to reduce their hours, move from full time to part time, work on different days of the week, be exempted from working on a particular day of the week, move to day or night shifts, be exempt from overtime working, only work during school terms, or enter into a job-share arrangement.
A request can also be made to work from home, or elsewhere remotely, for some or all of their working hours. It is these kinds of requests that we expect to see increase as an effect of the experience of many workers during the Coronavirus lockdown.
How should a request be made?
Requests should be made in writing by an employee and responded to in the same way. You should make a decision within three months after considering how the request could work in practical terms, its advantages and disadvantages.
On what grounds can I refuse a request?
Employers can decline a flexible working request if they have grounds, which can include a detrimental impact on employee performance, or on the business’s ability to meet customer demand. But the onus is on the employer to show this – the assumption is that a request should be granted unless there is a compelling reason not to.
Crucially, you must be consistent in how you approve or deny requests. An employee may have a legitimate grievance if their request has been refused while someone else in a similar position has had theirs granted.
Can an employee appeal against a refusal?
There is no statutory right to appeal a refusal but in refusing a request, it is good practice to give the employee the option to appeal. This demonstrates reasonable behaviour and can help avoid a time-consuming and costly tribunal claim further down the line.
For more information
More guidance on flexible working requests is included in our free factsheet and in Reality HR RESET – a free resource designed to help businesses in emerging from lockdown and planning for the future, and downloadable here.