20th July 2011

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS: A Guide to Flexible Working Requests

With over one million families in the UK headed by lone parents and over 5.2million carers, requests for flexible working are likely to increase.  It is therefore extremely important for employers to familiarise themselves with the statutory procedure for dealing with flexible working requests so as to prevent any compensation being awarded by an employment tribunal. 

Flexible working arrangements have been held to include job sharing, part time working, flexi-time, working from home and annualised hours.

Parents of disabled children (aged up to 18), carers of adults and those who have shared parental responsibility for a child (aged up to 16) have the right to apply for such flexible working. 

An employer has a legal duty to consider such requests. 

What is the procedure for dealing with a request?

Within 28 days of receiving a request, an employer must either agree to the terms and notify the employee or arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss the request.  The employer should allow the employee to be accompanied by a work colleague if the employee so wishes.  Employees must be notified of the decision within 14 days of the meeting.  If an employer rejects a request, it must set out a clear business reasons for such a rejection.  Employees have a right to appeal this decision. 

What requires to be done if an agreement is reached and the request is granted?

If agreement to a change in working pattern is reached, the employer should put this in writing.  The law requires an employer to issue a new contract within one month of the change taking effect.  At the very least the employer should be providing a letter to the employee setting out the change and referring to the existing contract. 

What are the sanctions imposed on an employer?

An employee can make a complaint to a tribunal in relation to the right to request on the grounds that:

  1. The employer failed to deal with the request in accordance with the time scales or by failing to hold a meeting, failing to notify a decision or failing to offer a right of appeal;
  2. The employer refused the request for an unlawful reason; or
  3. The decision to reject the application was based on incorrect material facts. 

The tribunal may order the employer to reconsider the application and may award compensation of up to 8 weeks pay to the employee.  It is relatively common for an employer to fail to meet the statutory time scales and, whenever there is such a failure, it is open to the employees to claim compensation from the employer as a result of this failure.  For this reason, it is very important that employers get the request procedures correct. 

What are the tips for dealing with flexible working requests from carers?

  1. Train your managers to recognise flexible working requests and the time scales for dealing with such requests.
  2. Create an internal application form which sets out the procedure and time scales and make it available to employees.
  3. Ensure that a consistent approach is adopted when dealing with such requests.
Simon Allison

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