Thousands of employees across the UK have been working from home during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While the adjustment to remote working and being at home during the day might have been a challenge at the start of lockdown, it has become the norm for many people – and one they may be reluctant to leave behind.
Many feel they are more productive in their own working environment and enjoy being in familiar surroundings, while others crave the office environment and the daily commute.
Returning to the office may not be on the cards for some weeks yet, and while that timescale depends largely on the progress of the Scottish Government’s recently announced plans for a phased route out of lockdown, employees should be aware that they can officially ask to continue working from home on a more permanent basis.
Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.
All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers.
This is known as ‘making a statutory application’.
To be able to do this, an employee must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible.
What your employer must do if you put in a request
Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.
The official guidance on the GOV.UK website gives examples of this as being:
assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application
holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee
offering an appeals process
An employer can refuse an application if they have a good business reason for doing so.
However, if an employer does not handle a request in a ‘reasonable manner’, the employee can take them to an employment tribunal.
There are different types of flexible working that can be requested.
The GOV.UK website lists these as including:
Working from home: where it might be possible to do some or all of your work from home or anywhere else other than the normal place of work
Part-time: working less than full-time hours (usually by working fewer days)
Compressed hours: working full-time hours, but over fewer days
Flexi-time: the employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain ‘core hours’ every day
How to apply for flexible working
Employees can apply for flexible working if they have worked continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks. This is known as ‘making a statutory application’ and it’s important to note that the GOV.UK website states that “employees can only make one application for flexible working a year.”
The basic application steps are:
The employee writes to the employer
The employer considers the request and makes a decision within three months – or longer if agreed with the employee
If the employer agrees to the request, they must change the terms and conditions in the employee’s contract
If the employer disagrees, they must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. The employee may be able to complain to an employment tribunal
Writing to your employer
An employee should email or write a letter to their employer.
Some employers may not accept this and ask employees to use a standard company form issued through their HR Department.
What the email or letter must include
Your application must include:
a statement that this is a statutory request
details of how the employee wants to work flexibly and when they want to start
an explanation of how they think flexible working might affect the business and how this could be dealt with, for example if they are not at work on certain days
a statement saying if and when they have made a previous application
If an employee changes their mind about making a request they should tell their employer in writing that they want to withdraw their application.
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There are two possible outcomes to any request – an agreement or a rejection.
If your employer agrees to your application, they will write to you formally accepting the request.
This will include:
a statement of the agreed changes
a start date for flexible working
They should also change your employment contract to include the new terms and conditions
This should be done as soon as possible but no later than 28 days after the request was approved.
If the request for flexible working is rejected, your employer must formally tell you that they have rejected your application.
Reasons for rejecting an application
The GOV.UK website states that employers can reject an application for any of the following reasons:
extra costs that will damage the business
the work cannot be reorganised among other 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’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
the business is planning changes to the workforce
Making an appeal
Employees no longer have a statutory right to an appeal, however, offering an appeals process helps to demonstrate that the employer is handling requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.
For more details and further information on making an application, download the ACAS Code of Practice on flexible working requests here.
You can also find more information on the GOV.Uk website here.