Working from home. Late starts. Early darts.

Flexible working has become the bargaining chip for businesses looking to attract and keep the best talent.

So what do you do if an employee makes a flexible working request?

The right to ask

Once an employee has worked in your business for 26 continuous weeks, they have the right to ask for flexible working under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

They’ll need to put their request in writing, clearly outlining how they’d like to change their current working pattern. There’s a statutory limit of one request every 12 months, but it’s your call if you allow more frequent requests.

Hold a meeting and talk about the employee’s request before you start thinking about whether you can accept it or not.

The Equality Act: avoid discrimination claims

Under the Equality Act, you need to think about how refusing flexible working to employees with protected characteristics could be seen as discrimination.

A member of staff could ask for flexible working to take care of their child and if you refuse, they might argue they’re being discriminated against because of their sex.

When a flexible working request relates to an employee’s disability, you need to make reasonable adjustments.

For example, if your employee has a disability and you refuse to let them leave work early to attend their weekly physiotherapy appointment, you could be in breach of discrimination law.

Refusing a request

Yes, you have to consider a flexible working request. But it doesn’t mean you have to agree to it…

There are eight legal reasons you can use to justify refusing a flexible working request, including not having enough staff to cover shifts or failing to meet the demands of your customers.

If there’s a sound business reason for refusing an employee’s request, you need to clearly state what that reason is.

Coming to a decision

Once you’ve received and considered your employee’s request, you need to tell them your decision within three months. Remember that any decision you make will set a precedent for future requests for flexible working.

If you refuse the request, you have to clearly outline your business reasons and give the member of staff a chance to appeal.

But if you agree to your employee’s request, then you need to tell them when their new working arrangements start.

Not every business is equipped for flexible working. But offering it can boost staff morale and improve your working environment—and it’s a great way to attract new talent.