The right way to handle a remote working request

Kevin Bennett

May 11 2021

Thanks to lockdown, many employees have discovered the perks of remote work.  

In fact, a staggering 86% of UK workers want to work from home at least once a week. So it should be no surprise when a remote working request comes your way…  

But if you’re not sure how to respond, we’re here to help. From your legal duties to business considerations, we’ve covered all you need to know.  

The right to request flexible working 

The first thing you should know: employees have the right to request flexible working – and that includes switching to remote work. Employees can do this provided they: 

  • Submit the request in writing. 
  • Have worked for you for 26 weeks or more. 
  • Haven’t already requested to work from home in the past 12 months.  

And the second thing you should know: you have the right to refuse that request. But it’s not as simple as responding with a quick yes or no. Because according to the statutory code of practice on flexible working, you need to: 

  • Assess the advantages and disadvantages of the request. 
  • Hold a meeting to discuss the request with the employee. 
  • Offer an appeal process if you refuse. 
  • Deal with the request reasonably and within a reasonable timescale. 

So before you do anything, you need to seriously weigh up the pros and cons of allowing your employee to work from home.  

Consider the request carefully 

Imagine you say ‘yes’ straight away. How would this decision impact your business? 

Before you speak to your employee, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Can your employee work effectively from home? 
  • Would other staff face negative consequences as a result? 
  • Would customers or clients receive a different experience as a result? 
  • Is your employee likely to quit if you refuse? 

Your answers could flag up any important concerns to raise with your employee. 

Depending on the request, you could consider offering a compromise. For example, your employee might have requested to work from home on a full-time basis – and if that’s not realistic for your business, you could offer part-time remote work instead.  

Speak to your employee before you decide 

No matter what your decision, you need to speak to your employee about their request. 

Because even if you’re happy to approve the request right away, you need to discuss how their new routine will work in practise.  

And if you’re undecided or thinking about refusing, it’s important you listen to what your employee has to say. It could be that they have a valid reason behind the request.  

For example, working remotely could positively impact their mental health. Or it could be that they struggle to afford a costly commute to work every day. Whatever the reason, you need to take their concerns onboard. 

After listening to your employee, it’s up to you to make an informed decision. While there’s a maximum time limit of three months to decide, it’s best to give your employee an answer as soon as possible.  

You’re allowing your employee to work remotely…  

So you’ve decided to allow your employee to work remotely. And whether that’s full-time or just one or two days a week, you need to update your employee’s contract.   

When you update the contract, make sure to include: 

  • Where your employee will be based during remote work. 
  • Whether you will supply any necessary equipment.  
  • Data protection and confidentiality rules.  
  • Any changes to job location, working hours, pay, or holiday entitlement.  

And within one month of saying ‘yes’, you need to write a letter confirming these changes. This should set out how your employee’s contract will change, on which date the changes will kick in, and how long they will last. If the changes are permanent, you should say so.  

In your letter, it’s good to include a review date. This means you can assess how well your employee is adapting to the change and whether they need any extra support.  

You’ve decided against allowing remote work… 

Remote work isn’t appropriate for every business. If you’ve decided against allowing remote work, there are still steps you need to take.  

Remember, you need to speak to your employee first and discuss why you’re concerned about the request. Listen to their response and explore whether you could offer an alternative arrangement.  

If you can’t allow remote work full stop, you can refuse your employee’s request. To do this, you’ll need to confirm your decision in writing as soon as you can – and no later than three months after the request.   

It’s important you explain why you’ve refused. This helps your employee understand your decision, so they’re less likely to accuse you of being unfair.   

Allow for an appeal  

If you’ve refused, you should offer your employee the chance to appeal your decision. While it’s not a legal requirement, an appeal helps you resolve any issues without a formal grievance. 

An appeal means employees can: 

  • Share information that was missed or not available when you made your decision.  
  • Raise a concern if they feel you haven’t handled their request fairly. 

It’s good to allow your employee to invite a co-worker to the appeal. This helps reduce stress and shows you’re following a fair process.  

After this, you need to decide whether or not to change your decision. The whole process, including the appeal, should take no longer than three months. 

Protect yourself from tribunal claims 

If your employee doesn’t get the result they wanted, they may be upset. And that’s understandable. 

But when remote work isn’t practical for your business, you’re entitled to refuse. The good news is, if you’ve handled their request fairly, the matter should end there.  

To protect your business from claims, remember to: 

  • Respond to the request as soon as you can and conclude the whole process within three months. 
  • Speak to your employee and seriously consider the request before you decide. 
  • Confirm your decision in writing and explain your reasoning.  

Plus, you can’t treat staff differently for making a flexible working request. When employers dismiss staff or treat them unfairly as a result, it can lead to an employment tribunal.   

Need our help handling flexible working requests?

If you’re confused about flexible working requests, we’re here to help.  

When you’re navigating unknown territory, making big decisions could have damaging consequences. Call 0800 917 0771 for instant employment law advice. 

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