Following the planned change in the law, the notes below summarise the changes and obligations on employers when handling requests for flexible working from employees.

Summary of changes and obligations

  • An employee can make a request to work flexibly from day one of their employment
  • NOTE – If hiring new team members after April take the time during the interview to ensure they can work the hours needed and can meet your obligations for in-person attendance as needed.  Whilst it won’t prevent requests for flexible working from being made, it may highlight those candidates who may be more likely to make a request after being offered employment so you can discuss their preferences prior to them being offered a post.
  • A request must be in writing and state that it is a statutory request for flexible working.
  • NOTE – This should help to differentiate formal requests from the more informal requests that employees may make which you can address without the need for consultation etc.

The request should state:

    • the date of the request
    • the change the employee is requesting to the terms and conditions of their employment in relation to their hours, times or place of work
    • the date the employee would like the change to come into effect
    • if and when the employee has made a previous request for flexible working to the employee
  • An employee may make two statutory requests for flexible working within any 12-month period (changed from one).
  • All requests, including any appeals, must be decided and communicated to the employee within a period of two months from when the employer first receives the request. The employer and employee may agree to extend this period. If an extension is agreed, the employer should confirm this in writing to the employee (reduced from 3 months).
  • Employers must agree to a flexible working request unless there is a genuine business reason not to. A decision to reject a request must be for one or more of the following business reasons which are set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996.
  • NOTE – reasons for declining a request can be found here.
  • Employers must not reject a request without first consulting the employee. Unless the employer decides to agree to the employee’s written request in full, they must consult the employee before they decide. In such cases, the employer should invite the employee to a consultation meeting to discuss the request.
  • NOTE – The employee should be invited in writing and the meeting should be held without unreasonable delay, with reasonable time to prepare and can be done in person or remotely.  Notes must be kept and the person chairing the meeting should have the authority to make the decision.  The employee does not have the right to a companion, but one should be allowed as good practice.
  • Once the employer has decided about the request, they must inform the employee of their decision. They should confirm the decision in writing without unreasonable delay, considering the statutory two-month period for deciding requests including any appeal
  • There is no statutory right of appeal against a decision about a request for flexible working. However, allowing an employee to appeal is good practice. The written decision should make it clear that the employee has the option to appeal the decision. This includes explaining how to appeal if the employee wishes to do so, and the time frame for submitting any appeal.
  • NOTE – any appeal should be heard within the 2-month time frame and the appeal should be dealt with impartially. The person holding the appeal meeting should have sufficient authority to decide. Wherever possible, it should be handled by a manager who has not previously been involved in considering the request.  Any decision should be made in writing without unreasonable delay.

As with all things care should be taken if you receive a request in writing for flexible working as it would be easy to assume the request was being made informally if it is written in a casual fashion leading to ignoring the obligations and duties above – generally speaking if the employee takes the time to write a letter or an email, it may be worth questioning the employee if they are making a formal request or if they would prefer to keep the request informal.