Flexible working requests can be made by any employee who has worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks, but it can be difficult for employers to know how to respond to such requests, balancing business need with the wishes of their staff.
It was with great interest that I read about the case of Alice Thompson, an estate agent who made a flexible working request to her employer.
Ms Thompson wanted to work shorter hours so that she could pick up her daughter from nursery and asked her employer whether she could work a four-day week and finish at 5pm, rather than 6pm. A request that was refused.
Ms Thompson felt that her flexible working request was not seriously considered but was shut down and no counteroffer made. This left her feeling that she had no other option but to resign.
An employment tribunal upheld Ms Thompson’s claim, finding that by failing to properly consider her flexible working request, Ms Thompson had been put at a disadvantage, suffering indirect sex discrimination.
She was awarded £185,000 for loss of earnings, loss of pension contributions, and injury to feelings and interest.
What should employers do when they receive a flexible working request?
An employee has the right to make a flexible working request if they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks, are legally classed as an employee (rather than a worker or being self-employed) and have not made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months. Requests must be made in writing.
Employers must carefully consider a request when one is received and must make a decision, confirmed in writing, within three months.
It is advisable to discuss the request with your employee, before evaluating whether it could be accommodated or modified, taking into account the impact the changes would have on your business. In considering the request, you must not discriminate unlawfully against the employee.
Acceptable reasons for rejecting a request include:
- The burden of additional costs that would be incurred as a result of the change to working arrangements
- Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
- Inability to recruit additional staff
- It would have a detrimental impact on quality, performance or the ability to meet customer demand
- Insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
- A planned structural change to your business
For advice about flexible working requests or any aspect of employment law, please phone 01782 205000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, if you are an employer, please ask about our Beswicks HR service, which provides unlimited access to an employment solicitor for phone and email advice whenever you need it for a low monthly fee.