Employees do not have an absolute right to work flexibly but if the requesting employee has at least 26 weeks' service then employers have a duty to handle requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner, under specific legislation.
An employer can refuse a request for flexible working but this must meet one of the eight allowed statutory reasons for refusal. These are:
- the burden of additional costs
detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demands
inability to reorganise work among existing staff
inability to recruit additional staff
detrimental impact on quality
detrimental impact on performance
insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
- planned structural changes
If a woman requests flexible working for childcare reasons, refusing the request may amount to sex discrimination, in some circumstances.
Where a flexible working request made by a woman for childcare reasons, or in other cases where refusal might constitute indirect discrimination, then, as well as fitting into one of the eight reasons, the refusal must be justified. Broadly speaking, the refusal will be justified if it is for a good reason and your decision has balanced your reason against the downside to the employee of refusal.
Where a flexible working request is made by an employee to accommodate health problems, you must take particular care to avoid disability discrimination. Ask a Lawyer to discuss this tricky area.
All flexible working requests are likely to contain sensitive personal data which must be processed in accordance with your Data protection policy and employee privacy notice; a statement that describes how you collect, use, retain and disclose personal information.
If you cannot grant the request as originally specified, consider offering a compromise that you can accommodate. This helps show you are being reasonable.
A trial period can be useful but may also make it hard to say no to a permanent change later.
Employees must not be dismissed or subjected to detriment for requesting flexible working. If an employee is dismissed in connection with a request for flexible working this will be considered to be automatic unfair dismissal.