Can an employer change a flexible working agreement?

27 August 2020

Sometimes your employees can request a change to their working situation. However, keep in mind in modern business employees appreciate a flexible working environment. It can help improve their work-life balance.

So, how should you business respond? Well, you can talk to us on 0800 028 2420 for immediate support with a request.

We also explain the process below and how you can accept or reject a request.

What’s a flexible working arrangement?

It’s where an employee requests changes to their working hours or conditions and you, as their employer, allow this to happen.

Generally, it promotes a stronger work-life balance for your staff and can be an important way of:

  • Maintaining employee morale.
  • Increasing productivity.
  • Facilitating staff retention.

The law outlines that employees have the right to make a flexible working request once they have worked for you for at least 26 weeks and can submit one request every 12 months.

Any employee can make a request and they don’t need to outline why they want the change.

While you don’t have to agree to any request, you do need to provide sound business reasons for its refusal.

Examples of flexible working changes include the following:

  • Time of work (for example, requesting a change to start or finish times).
  • Place of work (for example requesting to work at a different branch, or work from home).
  • Hours of work (for example requesting a reduction in working hours).

It’s also important to consider why an employee would request flexible working:

  • To help manage childcare responsibilities after parental leave.
  • For mental health issues.
  • To save on public transport.

Examples of flexible working arrangements includes:

  • Working from home.
  • Job sharing/part-time working.
  • Compressed working weeks.
  • Term time arrangements.

If you agree to a flexible working agreement

If you choose to clear a request, you’ll need to establish a flexible working agreement.

This confirms what the new arrangement will be and when it will come into effect. It also outlines if the new arrangement is subject to a trial period first.

There are two ways in which an employee can ask request to work flexibly:

  1. A statutory request: They make this in writing and can do this once in a 12-month period—that’s if the employee has worked for 26 weeks.
  2. A non-statutory request: They can make this if they’re not eligible for a statutory request. It can be formal or informal.

It’s important to remember that, for informal requests, there are no instances of indirect discrimination in your method of refusal.

This can help you to avoid an employment tribunal.

Accepting or rejecting the request

You don’t have to accept the request, though there’s the risk it can be workplace discrimination you refuse it without a genuine reasons. This is less of an issue with non-statutory requests.

If you accept the change, it may affect the employee’s contract. A non-statutory request is an informal agreement. It doesn’t alter the terms and conditions of the contract.

If you accept a statutory request, this means it forms a permanent change to the employee’s contract.

After agreeing on this, you can then consider whether the arrangements are temporary or subject to a trial period. Usually, the employee will want it to be permanent.

Changes to flexible working

Some employees may ask, “Can my employer change my flexible working agreement?” The short answer is no. You don’t have the right to ask an employee to revert to their previous working arrangements.

They may also ask, “Can an employer withdraw a flexible working agreement?” No. You can’t change the terms and conditions without the employee’s consent in general unless there is a flexibility clause.

If you agree on a statutory request, it would form a permanent change to your contract that by law you have to stick to. A non-statutory request isn’t made under the law, and has no set procedure.

Any unilateral imposition of a different working pattern by you would become a breach of the employee's contract.

However, there’s no reason why you and the employee can’t mutually agree on a further change at some future point.

If you change the contract without consent, the staff member will have a potential claim for breach of contract and, possibly, unfair constructive dismissal.

There’s also no automatic right for an employee to change back to their previous working arrangements if their circumstances change.

For example, their child may reach a particular age, or may no longer have caring responsibilities, meaning they want their old hours back.

This, again, would need to be the result of a new agreement between themselves and their employer. 

Need our help?

If you require any legal advice, get in touch for immediate assistance with any employment law, HR, or health & safety issue: 0800 028 2420

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