What is Flexible Working Practices?
It is a method of working that best suits the needs of an employee. It often includes having flexible start and finish times. It can also include working from home.
The official term for requesting flexible working arrangements is ‘making a statutory application’. But, employees must have already worked for their same employer for at least 26 weeks to qualify.
Dealing with a Request for Flexible Working
Having received a statutory application an employer must deal with it in a ‘reasonable manner’. There are several ways employers must use a reasonable manner to handle a request, such as:
- Making an assessment of the advantages and the disadvantages of an application to work flexibly.
- Setting up a meeting to discuss the terms of the request with the employee.
- Providing information on the appeal process.
Note: Search ‘Acas Code Of Practice – Handling In A Reasonable Manner Requests To Work Flexibly’ for further guidance.
Employers can refuse to grant an application for flexible working hours. But, they must have a valid business reason for rejecting it. Even so, employees can go to an employment tribunal if the request was not handled in a reasonable manner.
Different Types of Flexible Working
There are various definitions of the term ‘flexible working arrangements’. As a rule, it depends on the type of working schedule and adaptations you have agreed with your employer.
It would generally refer to a specified working pattern. Thus, it differs from the standard working patterns of most employees. The most common arrangements for working flexibly include:
- Annualised Hours: An arrangement whereby an employer and employee agree a set number of hours worked across a year. As a rule, the daily hours patterns are variable in these types of flexible working practices.
- Career Breaks: Unpaid sabbaticals or time taken off in lieu.
- Compressed Hours – Working the same number of hours but over fewer days.
- Flexitime: Requires an employee to be at work during a specified ‘core period’ each day (e.g. 10am to 4pm). But, it allows them to arrange some hours around their own commitments.
- Job Sharing: Job-shares enable two people to share the same job (often working alternate days or weeks).
- Part Time: The process of working less than full-time hours (usually achieved by working fewer days).
- Phased Retirement: Most older workers can now choose when to retire. They can carry on working after State Pension age since the phasing out of the default retirement age. Thus, they can reduce their hours by working part time instead of full time.
- Staggered Hours: It allows people to start and finish their work at different times to other workers.
- Working from Home: It is often possible to get the work done from home or somewhere else away from the normal office.
Note: The rules and procedures for requesting flexible working arrangements differ in Northern Ireland.
How to Apply for Flexible Working Schedule
Flexible working laws changed in June 2014. The right to adjusted hours of employment only applied to certain qualifying parents. The law got amended since to include flexible working schedules for more workers.
The legal statutory right to request flexible working is now open to all eligible employees. It applies for any given reason or grounds. An employer must consider each request as a separate issue and on a case-by-case basis.
An employee would qualify by serving employment for at least 26 weeks with the same employer. But, you must use the process of ‘making a statutory application’. The four basic steps of the process are:
- The employee would make a written request to their employer.
- The employer would then consider the request and make a decision within three (3) months. It can be longer if it gets agreed with the employee.
- As a rule, the employer will agree to the request. If so, they must change the terms and conditions to update the changes in the contract of the employee.
- The employer may reject it and disagree with the request for flexible working. In this case, the employer must write to the employee giving valid business reasons for the refusal. The employee can complain to an employment tribunal in some cases.
Note: Employees cannot make more than one application for flexible working each year.
How to Make a Statutory Application
An employee can choose between writing to their employer or they can send the details by email. Employers can ask employees to use ‘The right to request flexible working: application form‘ to make an application.
Information the Letter or Email Must Include
Your employer needs to know what you expect so they can follow the proper procedure. Thus, a flexible working request must be a written submission and contain:
- The date of your application, changes you are seeking, and when.
- A statement that says it is a statutory request (Employment Rights Act 1996).
- What effect the requested change may have on the business of your employer (e.g. how to deal with work on the days you are not at work).
- Whether you have made a previous request for flexible working and when you did so.
Note: Northern Ireland has different rules on flexibility of working hours, homeworking, and workers’ regulations.
How to Withdraw an Application
Withdrawing an application for flexible working arrangements should be in writing. There are some situations where an employer can treat an application as withdrawn. Examples include missing two meetings about the application or appealing without a good reason.
Note: An employer must inform the employee if they treat a request as withdrawn.
Handling a Request after an Application
Employers must use a ‘reasonable manner’ to consider flexible working requests. As a rule, they should make a decision within three (3) months of the request (some exceptions apply).
Agreeing to an Application
After an agreement the employer should write to the employee with information that shows:
- A statement of the agreed changes to the maximum weekly working hours.
- The start date for flexible working arrangements.
As a rule, they should change an employment contract terms and conditions to get it updated. This should occur without delay but no later than 28 days after the request first got approved.
Valid Reasons for Rejecting an Application
If an employer rejects an application they must inform the employee that they rejected it. A list of valid reasons employers can reject an application includes:
- A consideration that extra costs will damage the business or it would be unable to meet customer demand.
- The employer is unable to reorganise the work among other staff members or cannot recruit other workers to do the job.
- The assessment shows that flexible working will affect the quality and performance.
- There is not enough work to do during the proposed new arrangement for working times.
- A situation where the business has plans to change its workforce.
How to Make an Appeal
There is no statutory right to an appeal for employees any longer per se. But, employers use the appeals process as part of handling requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.
Even so, an employee must follow the company procedures when appealing a decision. There are several ways to proceed beforehand if a rejected application causes problems. The UK laws of employment say both parties should follow the company procedures for solving a workplace dispute.
Attending an Employment Tribunal
Valid reasons why an employee can complain to an employment tribunal include situations where an employer:
- Failed to handle the statutory application in a ‘reasonable manner’.
- Applied the wrong treatment to the employee’s application as withdrawn.
- Treated an employee poorly or dismissed them from work because of their flexible working request (e.g. refused to give them a pay rise or a promotion).
- Rejected the application for flexible working based on incorrect facts.
There is a deadline for an employee to complain to an employment tribunal. The appeal should get made within three (3) months of:
- Receiving the decision on the application from their employer.
- Hearing that their request got treated as withdrawn.
- The date that the employer should have responded to their request (if they failed to do so).
Note: The rejection to a request for flexible working ‘alone’ does not allow employees to complain to a tribunal. Always seek legal advice if you are unsure of your employment rights.
How Flexible Working Affects British Workplaces
More businesses are being encouraged to adopt a less stringent approach to flexible working. This is according to a report by Vrumi, based in London. They came up with an innovative plan to convert daytime room rental into affordable office workspace.
They estimated that around 10 million British workers spend at least half of their working hours at home. That staggering statistic translates into workplaces occupied only around 40% of the time. Thus, 60% of offices are not used during working hours in the United Kingdom.
There is a projected rise in flexible working schedules for more workers. Thus, businesses need to take action which could also help improve a UK-wide ‘space crisis’.