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The response of an employer to request for flexible working is often one of frustration and annoyance because it distracts them from what they’re having to do in their day-to-day job. However, in my experience providing flexible working can actually be a positive benefit where it doesn’t disrupt the business. This is also becoming a bigger issue with people asking to work from home. However, the rules of flexible working requests have not changed (although there were some news stories this week that this is being looked at, god help us!) 

I remember one experience I had as a manager of a large call centre providing legal advice. A new recruit to the call centre contacted me before her start date had said that she won’t be able to take up the job because she was pregnant. I responded that of course she should join us as we could get her trained up and then once she finished maternity leave she could come back.  

As the pregnancy progressed a number of complications occurred, and it was clear that when she returned to work, she would require some form of flexible working arrangement in order to continue in the job. We arranged that she should come in at 3:00 pm and work up till later on in the evening. She was starting work at a time when all the staff on normal hours were going through the “post lunch dip” in energy. Her arrival in the team motivated the rest. Yes, this was partly down to her own personality and general positive outlook on life, but it also was down to the fact that she was coming to work with her energy intact and she transmitted that to her colleagues. We also had a job share where people worked one week on, one week off. We had to sort out a handover system that suited them both but once this was in place their productivity was higher than someone who worked every week. I have also come across situations where I have agreed someone could work from home and this also improved her productivity. I have also come across situations where homeworking merely increased the number of hours on Netflix rather than the work being done, so each case needs to be dealt with on its merits.  

I would advise you don’t just dismiss flexible working out of hand as there are many occasions when it can be both a benefit to the business and the employee.   

There is also the legal aspect, people are legally entitled to request flexible working from day one of their employment. You are required to consider such requests according to the legislation, but you are allowed to turn down such requests on the following grounds: 

  1. The burden of extra costs. 
  1. An inability to reorganise work amongst exiting staff. 
  1. An inability to recruit extra staff. 
  1. A detrimental impact on quality. 
  1. A detrimental impact on performance. 
  1. A detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand. 
  1. Insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work. 
  1. A planned structural change to your business. 

If you fail to properly deal with a flexible working request in accordance with the legislation, and someone resigns as a result of your failure, you could find yourself in a tribunal facing a claim. I probably don’t need to explain the problems that could cause.  

If you are a small company flexible working requests can be difficult to agree, but provided you handle such requests in line with the legislation, you should be OK.