Requests for flexible working – small business nightmare or an opportunity not to be missed

By: Fanny Marshall

Date: 10 September 2009

Do you employ parents with school-age children? If so, you'll be familiar with the annual upheaval September can bring for those whose children are starting at school for the first time or moving up to secondary school. As an employer you'll probably want this to have as little effect on your workforce as possible but the chances are it will bring requests for a bit of flexibility in the hours your employees work.

You only have a legal obligation to provide flexible working arrangements in specific circumstances – read our briefing 'The law on flexible working' to find out the details – however there are some clear business benefits, so it may be worth considering introducing it for all employees. That way you can also forestall the rumblings of 'discrimination against employees that don't have children' which can be overheard in workplaces up and down the country (but see also the Law Donut forum post 'Is there ever a good reason for discrimination?').

Offering flexible working to your employees may attract employees to your company and can also help you retain existing staff. Flexible working patterns can boost staff morale and commitment to your company. It has been shown that the introduction of flexible working arrangements can reduce absenteeism and can even lead to noticeable improvements in employee productivity. A request for flexible working could comprise a change to working hours or time worked. Your employee could ask you to consider a job-share arrangement or change in location, for example working from home. Your employee needs to make a request to you in writing, well in advance of when they would like the change in their work pattern to start. They should clearly state when they would like the change to start, why they believe they are eligible and include a plan of how the proposed changes would work. In return, you must arrange a meeting with your employee within 28 days of receiving an application. You must then reply to your employee's application, in writing, within 14 days of the meeting, stating your reasons for accepting or turning down their request.

You can refuse an application to work flexibly but only if there is a clear business reason.

For more information on flexible working please visit the Law Donut.

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