Remote working has been thrust upon employers in recent years. Many may want to go back into the office, but now workplaces are starting to adopt a flexible working model, even using flexible office space. What does that mean?
What is flexible working?
Flexible working includes homeworking; part-time working; job share; staggered hours; annual hours; compressed hours, working the same number of hours over a shorter period and phased retirement. This is not an exhaustive list.
Who can apply for flexible work?
Any employee, whatever their gender, can apply for flexible working provided they have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service.
How should an employee apply for flexible work?
An employee cannot make more than one application to the same employer in 12 months. The application should be in writing and because it must contain certain information, it is useful to use the government’s application form.
How should an employer deal with an application for flexible working?
An employer must deal with the application ‘in a reasonable manner’ and notify the employee of the decision within 3 months of the application or any permitted appeal unless a longer period is agreed upon. There is an Acas Code of Practice on handling requests in a reasonable manner and there are specified permitted grounds for refusal of an application. However, even if an employer refuses an application on one of the specified grounds, employers should be aware that a refusal may give rise to a discrimination claim if, for example, it unjustifiably refuses a woman’s request to change her hours for childcare reasons.
What should an employer do if its employees have been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and now wants to make homeworking (or working partly from home and partly from the employer’s premises) a more permanent arrangement for its employees?
This is likely to constitute a variation of the contract of employment, for which the employees’ consent should be sought. Employers will need to decide at the start what they would do if any of the employees do not agree to the change as this could make a difference to the procedure they should follow. The employees’ contracts of employment should be updated (and possibly the employer’s staff handbook) setting out the revised terms resulting from the homeworking arrangements. Such revised terms should include not only a change in place of work but also, for example, confirmation from the employee that they are not in breach of any mortgage or tenancy agreement by working at home and that they will comply with all health and safety and data protection instructions.
Should you require any help or advice arising from any of these issues, please call or send me an email.