Employees seeking flexible working arrangements need to have completed a minimum of 26 weeks’ service for their employers before they are legally entitled to make a request.
Kerry Hudson, Head of Employment Law at leading Coventry and Warwickshire law firm Brindley Twist Tafft and James, said perhaps because of Covid and with a lot of businesses still not having fully returned to work, many employees are of the mistaken belief that flexible working hours are an automatic right, particularly if they had previously been on flexible furlough or working from home.
Whereas some employers are happy to accommodate such requests as they seek to retain their staff and can offer a very workable and happy compromise which can be done informally initially. However, companies are also fully within their rights to insist the request is made through the formal channels, with a written request and a meeting.
Companies have three months to consider such a request – and even then the answer may be no if the request would mean the business needs cannot be met.
The government has recently launched a consultation to allow workers to be able to make their request from day one in a new job. It is also anticipated such requests would be handled more quickly. But until that time the existing law for new employees still stands.
Kerry said: “Flexible working arrangements have long been used mainly by people who use childcare or who look after elderly parents/dependants
“But many more people have started to realise its benefits since the start of Covid – particularly if they have been on furlough – although that is not what realistically it was designed for.
“While many companies are in favour of employees working on a rotation basis from home, or at least are happy to accommodate their wishes, they are under no obligation to allow it, even if the employee does take it through the formal channels. For someone to make the request they have to have a valid reason – often more than a desire for an improved work life balance by working from home taking away the commuting time etc.
“But if someone is making a legitimate request, like they can’t accommodate childcare without flexible working, or they’re struggling to juggle their work with caring for an elderly relative, the employer must carefully consider the request, in some cases a failure has led to a claim for discrimination.”