Many employees believe that they have a right to work flexible hours, which can include part time working, working condensed hours or working from home. In fact, the right is for certain categories of employees – and soon for all employees – to request flexible working – which employers can refuse.

Currently, employees who have worked continuously for a business for not less than 26 weeks and who have children under the age of 17 (or 18 if they have a disabled child) have the right to make a written request for flexible working. However, from 30 June 2014 the same rules will apply to all employees regardless of their circumstances. The only stipulation that will apply is that the employee will have to have worked at the company for 26 weeks or more.

The Flexible Working regulations set out a formal process that both the employee and employer must follow, once a request has been made.

Employers can turn down a flexible working request, but only on one of 8 prescribed grounds which are:

  • The burden of additional costs
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Inability to re-organise 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

Once an employee has made a request for flexible working, employers must be careful to ensure that they act fairly and do not discriminate – intentionally or unintentionally – when it comes to deciding whether or not to agree a change in working patterns.

Employers must consider all of their options, and if they do decide not to grant the employee the right, they should keep a proper record of the decision making process, and ensure that the reasoning behind the decision accords with one of the 8 grounds for refusal as set out above.

Because employers are required to follow a formal process, and due to the risk that they  may fall foul of separate, but related, discrimination regulations, business owners and managers may be sensible to take independent, specialist advice before making a final decision.

At Farleys we have a dedicated employment team, with many years’ experience of supporting businesses through the constantly changing employment regime. If you are worried about the extension of the right to request flexible working and would like to arrange to talk to one of our experts, please do not hesitate to contact us.