From time to time, a member of staff may request flexible working hours. Common reasons are so that they can drop their kids of at school or look after a sick or elderly relative.

All employees who have worked for at least 26 consecutive weeks for an employer have a right to request flexible working hours. Employers are not legally obliged to accept a request, but they must have a valid business reason for rejecting it (see below).

How does an employee request flexible working hours?

  • A request should be made in writing stating the new hours the employee wants to work.
  • It should state how the employee thinks the change will affect the business.
  • It should give the start date and say whether the employee has requested flexible working before.
  • Employees can only make one request every 12 months.

How should an employer respond to a flexible working request?

  • A request (including appeals) must be considered and decided upon within three months.
  • If accepted, it will permanently change the employee’s employment contract.
  • It’s good practice to have a meeting to confirm the new hours.
  • Employers must have a sound business reason for rejecting any request.

What’s a valid reason for rejecting a flexible-working request?

According to ACAS, valid reasons include:

  • The burden of additional costs
  • An inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • An inability to recruit additional staff
  • A detrimental impact on quality
  • A detrimental impact on performance
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • A planned structural change to the business

Resolving a dispute
If the application is refused, the first step is to hold an informal discussion to ensure that it’s not a case of misunderstanding. The next port of call would likely be for the employee to go through the employer’s internal grievance procedure. If that fails to resolve the issue they might seek assistance from a third party such as a trade union representative and/or ACAS. Where agreement still cannot be reached, the matter could be referred to the ACAS Arbitration Scheme or an employment tribunal.

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