As businesses adapt to the impact of the pandemic, change has become the norm in workplaces of all descriptions.
Following the lockdown and widespread adoption of homeworking, increasing numbers of businesses are planning to adopt flexible working arrangements on a long-term basis.
This is hardly surprising when you consider that 80 per cent of business owners feel that productivity among their newly-remote workforce has either increased or remained the same during the lockdown period. In addition to supporting general productivity, continuing with flexible working arrangements on a more permanent basis could see companies reduce costs by downsizing office space.
Flexible working, such as remote working, part-time or by setting flexible work hours, is also shown to increase engagement, boost overall productivity, and make your organisation more attractive to new talent.
Employers must, however, remember that underpinning any changes in flexible workplace flexibility are certain legal duties. Failing to meet these requirements can expose the employer to tribunal claims.
In this guide, we summarise employers’ legal obligations for flexible working, and explore the different types of working arrangements that could work for your organisation.
Employers’ flexible working obligations
By law, all employees who have accrued at least 26 weeks of continuous employment have the right to request, and be fairly considered for, flexible working.
Employers may only refuse a flexible working request if they can demonstrate that the business would be adversely affected by the change. Types of adverse effect include:
- Associated additional costs that would prove a burden
- Quality of work would suffer
- Performance or productivity would suffer
- Workload cannot be redistributed among other staff
- Customer demand cannot be met
- No work available on proposed working days or hours
Employers may also reasonably refuse a request to work flexibly if they can show planned workforce structure changes which, when implemented, would make flexible working impossible for one of the above reasons.
Before refusing an employee’s request to work flexibly, consider whether any other types of flexible working arrangement would meet the employee’s needs while also being viable from a business perspective. Referring to the ACAS guidance on flexible working arrangements will ensure you fulfil your legal responsibilities while handling requests.
Types of flexible working arrangements
Choosing the right flexible working arrangement to suit an employee requires consideration and should not be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. You must consider all aspects of the employee’s job role, their personal responsibilities, and any other restrictions they have that you must seek to accommodate with the arrangement.
It is important to have your flexible working policies in place and visible to potential employees. Having a broad range of flexible working options available will allow your organisation to cast a wide net and draw interest from the greatest possible pool of talent. In addition, a detailed policy will give newcomers a clear idea of what behaviours and standards are expected while working flexibly.
As a result of office closures due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, more employees than ever before are working remotely. This type of flexible working arrangement refers to any situation in which the employee works entirely outside the office environment, most often from home, and can be suitable for both full and part-time employees.
The biggest benefit of remote working is that the employee can be based anywhere in the world; this means freedom and flexibility for them, plus the opportunity to accept applications from a limitless pool of talent for your organisation. Obviously, this type of flexible working arrangement would not be suitable for any job role that includes duties best performed in person.
Condensing the working week
If an employee requires more time away from the office, you may consider condensing their working week to include longer shifts which span fewer days.
In a 40-hour working week, this may involve the employee working four 10-hour shifts as opposed to the standard 5 eight-hour shifts. Of all types of flexible working arrangement, condensed workweeks tend to be the most desirable to job seekers. However, this may pose a threat to productivity where it becomes harder for employees to maintain output over a long shift.
Though it is rarely a viable solution for most organisations, some companies may benefit from significantly lower overheads by placing all employees on the same condensed working schedule.
Custom working hours
Giving employees the opportunity to choose their own working hours (within reasonable boundaries) is easily the most popular and widely implemented type of flexible working arrangement. This may involve allowing staff to choose a block of working hours between 6am and 10 pm.
Customisable working hours (also known as flexitime) usually work wonders for overall productivity, as employees can select the time of day they most prefer to work. For example, ‘morning people’ might opt for earlier shifts than those who feel most productive in the evening. It also accommodates working families and those with other commitments during standard office hours.
Job sharing is one of the lesser implemented types of flexible working arrangement, which involves splitting a full-time position between two employees working part-time. Job sharing allows the employee the freedom of a part-time schedule, while the employer benefits from not having to offer full-time benefits.
However, this arrangement does require excellent communication between the job-sharing employees and slightly more complex responsibilities for the supervising manager.
Employers should consider whether a position requires a full-time worker. Often, productivity can be improved and costs reduced by reworking certain job roles to fit part-time hours.
Although you may limit your ability to attract the best employees in doing so, if they are seeking a position with full-time benefits. Increasingly, companies are choosing to revamp their part-time benefit packages to reflect more closely those of full-time employees.
‘Telecommuting’ is the term used to describe partial remote working. Usually implemented for full-time positions, this flexible working arrangement involves the employee splitting their time between remote working and office-based work. For example, they may work from home three days a week, working from the office for the remaining two days (assuming the work week is five days long).
While this arrangement does afford the employee a great deal of personal flexibility, it does require them to live within commuting distance of the office. Telecommuting is often the most advantageous type of flexible working arrangement in terms of maintaining productivity, as semi-regular office visits keep the employee involved in workplace culture; this increases engagement and ensures accountability.
Handling flexible working requests
While employees no longer have the statutory right to appeal if a request to work flexibly is denied, they may choose to make a complaint to an employment tribunal if they feel their request was not handled reasonably. To help avoid this outcome, employers may opt to establish an appeals process, even though it is not a legal requirement.
You should also ensure all flexible working requests are considered and settled in a timely manner. This will mean making a decision on the request and informing the employee of this decision, within three months of their application. Should you approve a request, the employee in question must be issued a statement of the agreed changes and a start date for the new working arrangement within 28 days of the approval.
Companies are advised to draw up a clear and detailed flexible working policy to ensure all current and potential employees understand the options available to them, and that management are aware of the options they are able to offer and implement within their teams.
The policy should also include a detailed breakdown of the procedures to follow concerning different flexible working arrangements (e.g. working from home), so that all employees understand what is expected of them and the standards that must be met, and to help minimise legal risk for managers handling flexible working requests.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute tax, financial or legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the rules and should not be treated as such.
Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission.
Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert tax, financial, legal or other advice should be sought.