For many employees, the prospect of sticking to a rigid 9 to 5 schedule may become stressful. To elevate this, many companies and businesses might consider introducing flexible working for their employees.
Employees can gain comfort and control with their work-life. Employers can enjoy a variety of benefits from these arrangements.
With many workplaces considering flexible work as a new normal and employees becoming more comfortable with it, employers would be wise to consider offering flexible working themselves.
Employees have the right to request flexible working, regardless of which type an employee may require. Failing to honour these requests can result in difficult pitfalls, including discrimination claims.
These rights are explained in the Flexible Working Regulations 2014.
But what is flexible working?
What is flexible working?
‘Flexible working’ can refer to several different approaches to working weeks.
It is, in its broadest sense, an alteration to a standard working schedule. Instead of traditionally working in one workplace for a set amount of hours each working day, flexible working allows employees to have more control over their working hours.
This can include anything from a different working environment, such as working from home, to drastically different working hours, such as working part-time.
It may be in action from the beginning of an employee’s time with an employer. But, flexible working is often requested by an employee or proposed by an employer.
Flexible work arrangements vary from company to company. You can introduce them from an employee’s first day as a standard working practice. Or, you can introduce them as a temporary measure in difficult or unusual circumstances.
Types of flexible working
There are a variety of flexible working examples. Working from home, or remote working, is one common example. There are also various different approaches to working hours:
Working from home
Otherwise known as remote working. Remote working provides an employee with everything they need to perform their roles from their own home. Flexible working practices ensure that an employee working from home continues to work to the best of their abilities.
However, working from home may not be a permanent option. An employee should be aware that they may be asked to return to work at any time. This is different to homeworking situations relating to the COVID pandemic.
If homeworking is implemented due to a flexible working request, it will be a permanent change to the contract. This is unless it is specifically stated otherwise.
Annualised, staggered and compressed hours
Not unlike flexitime, these change standard shifts and workdays.
Annualised hours, otherwise known as ‘core hours’, specifies an employee should work a certain number of hours over the year. These hours can be worked flexibly throughout the year. For example, an employee has an annual contract with 2,080 hours. They opt to have 11 months with 189 work hours in each month, leaving the final 12th month free.
Staggered hours alters the start and finishing times of an employee, including any break times. For example, starting a workday at 10 pm, with more frequent breaks, ending at 7 pm.
Compressed hours see an employee working their full-time hours compact into fewer days. For example, an employee has a 35 hour work week and chooses to work approximately nine hours a day for four days, rather than seven hours a day for five days.
Whatever the type that is requested or proposed, the intent is to suit both the employee and the employer’s needs.
These options are often how flexible furloughing works. Alternatives to options, such as redundancy, make flexible working beneficial to both employees and employers.
There are other examples of flexible working, including:
- Part-time working: reduces an employee’s full-time hours, usually by working fewer days.
- Job sharing: job sharing splits one employee’s roles between two people. This includes the employee’s working hours and their responsibilities.
- Phased retirement: another potential furlough arrangement. Phased retirement allows older employees to opt for reduced hours or work part-time as they near retirement.
- Flexitime: this specifically alters working hours. Flexible working hours usually grant an element of leniency to standard shifts or working days. For example, starting a workday at 10 am and finishing at 6 pm, instead of starting at 9 am and finishing at 5 pm.
Types of flexible working request
Flexible working rights state that an employee can make a ‘statutory application’. However, the employee must have been working for the employer for at least 26 weeks and can only make one request every 12 months.
It is also possible to make a ‘non-statutory application’. Employees can make these if they haven’t had 26 weeks length or service or if they’ve made a request within 12 months
Employees may wish to do so for a variety of reasons, such as wishing to try flexible working before fully committing to it.
Statutory requests for flexible working are formal requests. To make a request, an employee must be eligible. Eligibility includes working for the employer for at least 26 weeks and is not:
- An employee who has previously requested for flexible working: this is regardless of whether the request was agreed to or not.
- An employee from an agency
Employees may only make one request a year for flexible working. However, employers have no set deadline for replying to these requests. Employees may have to wait upwards of three months for a request to be considered. This is because employers have to consider these requests and provide sound business reasons for any refusals.
Written statutory requests should contain the following:
- The date: both of the request and when the employee wishes flexible working to begin.
- The intent: it must be clear that this is a formal statutory request.
- The reason: the employee must state why they wish to engage in flexible working and how it would change their role within the company. This would include how to address any potential issues with it and how it would benefit the company.
Employees are also able to make non-statutory requests. These requests aren’t as formal but should still provide an employer with a clear reason for the need for flexible working.
While an employee needs to be eligible for a statutory request, a non-statutory request can be made at any time. However, an employer may already have a flexible working scheme in place.
Benefits of a non-statutory request over a statutory request include:
- Requests can be made more than once a year.
- Employers do not need to consider non-statutory requests.
- Non-statutory requests can be short-term and used as a way of experiencing flexible working without committing to it.
Despite not being as formal, written non-statutory requests are still expected. They should contain reasoning as to why flexible time is desired, along with methods for handling potential issues it may create.
Benefits of flexible working
Flexible working often increases employee morale. Remote working providing several specific benefits for both employees and employers. These benefits include:
- Help employees establish a more comfortable work-life balance
- Increases employee’s feelings of personal control over their working environment and schedule
- Improves company image, creating a family-friendly and relaxing place to work
- Reduces commuting time and expenses, such as paying for public transportation
- Reduces employee turnover, absenteeism and tardiness
- Offers potential furlough agreements instead of redundancy
Disadvantages of flexible working
However, there is the potential for remote working to create problems for employees and employers, such as:
- No clear line between a working environment and home environment
- Some employees may find it difficult to work efficiently without supervision
- Lines of communication between separate teams may be disrupted
- If any employees cannot work from home, they may harbour feelings of unfairness
Help with flexible working
Flexible working regulations ensure that employees can request flexible working, under The Flexible Working Regulations Act 2014.
Employers must consider statutory requests for flexible working and handle them in a reasonable manner. This involves weighing up the pros and cons of flexible working and discussing the request with the employee.
If the request for flexible working is denied, the employer must allow an appeal process. Failing to do so can be grounds for an employment tribunal.