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What small businesses need to know about new flexible working rights
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There is a delicate balance to be struck between the commercial needs of a business and the needs of its employees, who have a difficult time juggling work and home life – particularly when they have dependents. It’s unsurprising, then, that since June 2014 flexible working requests have been a universal right in the UK.

You’ve probably heard about them but, if not, a flexible working request is where an employee asks for a change to the terms and conditions of their contract. This might be to do with working from home, weekend work or start/finish times. Staff can make one such request every 12 months, and these requests are classed as ‘statutory’, meaning they’re provided and governed by an Act of Parliament.

The request must be given in writing, and must contain the following information:

1)   The date of the application, the change they are seeking to their working conditions and when they would like the change to come into effect.

2)   How they think the employer might be affected, and how these should be dealt with.

3)   That they are making a statutory request

4)   If they have made a previous application for flexible working, and, if so, when that application was made.

It’s then up to their employer to consider the request in a ‘reasonable manner’ within three months of receiving it, and decide whether or not to grant the request or decline it. Whilst ‘reasonable manner’ may sound a bit vague, this actually means that employers need to consider flexible working requests carefully, weighing the benefits and disadvantages of the changes for both sides.

Of course, the law does now require that an employer grant a flexible working request; however, if they choose not to grant it, they must supply a solid, business-based reason. With this in mind, citrusHR would advise making any changes temporary in the first instance, rather than immediately committing to a permanently altered contract.

Ground for refusing a flexible working request include:

1)   The burden of additional cost

2)   A detrimental effect on the ability of the business to meet customer demand

3)   The difficulty of recruiting new staff and/or delegating work amongst existing staff

4)   A detrimental effect on performance or quality

5)   An insufficiency of work during the periods that the employee proposes to work

6)   Previously planned structure changes

In short, it’s important to put in place a fair, clear and objective flexible working policy. Some employers will already have one, and some will already offer it to all employees. Others will have policies that just require a little tweaking to bring them in line with the new law.

It might seem like extra effort, but it’s worth focusing on the positive effects, such as staff morale, loyalty, engagement and productivity that flexible policies can bring about if implemented correctly.

This is a brief article designed to introduce the main areas. citrusHR subscribers have access to the full online system that will support you as an employer as well as a series of management guides explaining what you need to know and how you need to act as an employer. You can sign up for a free trial here.

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