What is flexible working, and is it something that every business should be offering as part of their employee benefits packages? Is flexible working something that you legally have to support, or can you insist on in-office working for all of your employees?
In this blog, we reached out to a team of employment lawyers in Aberdeen for their take on flexible working and how to manage it from an employer perspective.
What is flexible working and is it beneficial for employers?
Flexible working is something that has gained more exposure in the employment sector recently, , as a benefit which enables employees to be flexible in their working schedule as well as their location, adapting it according to their lifestyle or specific needs. Whilst it might therefore be seen as a relatively new trend, in fact the statutory right to request flexible working has been in place since 2003.
With a variety of options available in terms of flexible working arrangements, it might grant a working parent the opportunity to start work early and then finish early in order to conduct the school pick-up, or it might let an individual work from home one day per week to minimise travel. It also covers job shares, the option to reduce hours, flexitime allowances, and a combination of home or flexible working.
The benefits of flexible working have long been a topic of conversation. While COVID-19 demonstrated the necessity and the success of flexible working and remote working for many individuals and businesses across a multitude of industries, the benefits today largely span the increase in employees’ work-life balance as well as enhanced productivity and a boost in retention.
So, do you have to offer it to all employees?
The ins and outs of flexible working
At the point of writing, the right to request flexible working remains a statutory right that is available to employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service or more, though t this will become something which employees can ask for from day one of their employment as a result of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill and other secondary legislation.
In addition, the same Bill (which is anticipated to become law in the first half of 2024) makes it possible for employees to now make two flexible working requests in a single calendar year, with employers legally obligated to respond to the request and make the necessary changes within two months.
Finally, it’s crucial that all businesses recognise the need for communication when it comes to flexible working requests. Whether you decide to facilitate an employee’s request or not, you are legally obliged to consult the employee before rejecting any such decision.
What if it isn’t possible for specific job roles or employees?
There are instances where flexible working is simply not suitable for certain job roles or businesses – for example in service roles where access to specific machinery or equipment is required. In these cases, it is perhaps unlikely that the employee would request flexible working even if they have the statutory right to do so – however, adaptations can and should be made to their schedule to help support any specific needs, if that also suits the business.
It is important to bear in mind that the statutory right is to request flexible working, and it is not a right to have flexible working. Ultimately employers can still reject flexible working requests if one or more statutory reasons apply. Requests will therefore always have to be considered on their merits.
When in doubt, always ask an employment law specialist for advice – with lawyers offering an annual retainer service so that you can tap into their expertise and receive advice as and when you need it.