A Flexible Return to Work

Your business has, no doubt, been through a lot recently and your way of working has probably changed. Many staff have had to work from home and I expect a lot more of them will be asking for flexible working. What does that mean to you?

Who can make a flexible working request?

Any employee with 26 weeks’ service can make a flexible working request. They can do this once a year. For instance, they might want to work different hours or to work from home. Both things you could have asked them to do as part of your response to COVID-19.


What should I do if I receive a flexible working request?

You must deal with each request “reasonably”. This means thinking about “how can I make this work?” rather than “how can I say no?” Thanks to Coronavirus, many of us have had to make changes work. We have had to overcome issues with technology, virtual meetings and sharing documents online. If it worked during COVID-19, why can’t it be part of the new normal?

Ask your employee to complete a flexible working request form. This will clarify what they are looking for. Your employee will also be asked to consider how their request will affect the business and how to overcome this. Arrange to meet your employee to discuss the form.  If you can agree to their request, great. Always confirm any changes in writing.

If you are concerned that you cannot agree to the changes they want, discuss your concerns at the meeting. You might be able to agree a compromise. You could have a trial period. If so, say when the trial period will end and what will happen if it is unsuccessful.


What if I can’t agree to a flexible working request?

You can only turn down a flexible working request on one or more of the following grounds:

  • extra costs will damage the business
  • the work cannot be reorganised among the staff
  • people cannot be recruited to do the work
  • flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • the business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • there is a lack of work to do in the proposed times
  • the business is planning changes to the workforce.

It will be very difficult to refuse a flexible working request, if it worked during COVID-19. If you find yourself in this situation, please contact me for advice.


Will this set a precedent?

Whenever you receive a flexible working request, you must consider it in the current circumstances. Let’s say you had three shop assistants. One asked to finish at 3pm each day to pick up their children from school. You considered this and agreed. There was sufficient cover from the other two assistants.

A colleague decided they would like to leave at 3pm each day too. This would now leave you with one person only in the shop after 3pm. That would not be enough cover. You don’t have to agree because you allowed the first shop assistant to reduce their hours. You consider each request in the current circumstances.

Flexible working can be a wonderful tool to help your employees get a better work/life balance. In turn, this may make their time in work more productive. Huge changes have been forced upon us by COVID-19. Perhaps some of these changes will be beneficial after all. If you need any support with this, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Categories Employment law, Staff Performance, Uncategorized