NP Writes: I have an employee who claims they have been caring for one of their relatives for some time now and would like to change their hours of work, however this is the first I have heard of this. Do I have to agree to their request?

Employees have a statutory right to make a request to change their working hours, pattern, working days or place of work, but this is subject to a number of requirements and therefore it is advisable to deal with this as a flexible working request provided the employee meets the criteria.

You should make sure that the employee has 26 or more weeks’ continuous employment and that they have not made a previous application for flexible working within the last 12 months. If the employee does not meet the criteria, you could still consider whether you can accommodate the hours that the employee suggests but you are under no obligation to.

For a formal request, the employee has to propose the alternative pattern or days they wish to work. They must also state what effect they think this will have on the business and how this effect can be dealt with. A statutory code of practice states that you must consider the request and deal with it in a reasonable manner. If you need to discuss it with the employee, you should arrange this. There is no specific right to have a meeting, or to be accompanied at the meeting, but you may find it easier to meet face to face.

There is not requirement for you to agree to the request. You should assess whether it could work in practice and you may want to consider what impact it would have on your operations. Inform the employee of the outcome by letter in a timely manner. If your decision is to grant the changes, then agree on a start date and also mention this in the letter.

You can only refuse the request if the reason for refusal falls into one of the reasons prescribed in law, and this could be because of the burden of additional costs; the detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; the inability to re-organise work among existing staff; the detrimental impact on quality; the detrimental impact on performance, amongst other things.

Once the employee’s hours are changed, it is considered a permanent change unless you have both agreed that it is temporary.