Next week (30 June) employers face a fresh challenge in relation to flexible working requests. All employees who have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service will be entitled to apply for flexible working.
The present very prescriptive system for dealing with applications will change at the same time with just two key requirements remaining namely that employers must:
• Deal with applications in a “reasonable manner”; and
• Notify employees of a decision within three months
In reality employers will have to devise a process for dealing with applications and if the ACAS Code is followed this will probably not look too different from the present mandatory scheme albeit with less rigid time scales.
The real challenge however is how employers assess applications and in particular how they should approach competing applications.
Good practice guidelines include being:
• Adequately prepared – consider training for managers who deal with flexible working requests.
• Open minded – rejecting applications out of hand is likely to lead to problems. Don’t prejudge a situation; what is being suggested may at first glance seem impractical but turn out to be perfectly workable and indeed beneficial to the business.
• Positive – flexible working can have many advantages so focus on these rather than the potential problems. Allowing flexible working can boost motivation, allow the retention of talent and save on recruitment costs.
• Thorough – consider each application in detail, on its own merits and as to its effect on the overall department or business.
• Consistent – this is important for all employers but requires good record keeping particularly in the case of larger multi-site employers.
• Imaginative – if you cannot agree to exactly what the employee has asked for is there a middle way? Equally a trial period may be in order to see if altered arrangements are successful.
• Transparent – if you have to reject an application be clear as to the reasons why. Employers still have to rely on one or more of the eight statutory reasons but don’t just quote these, explain how and why these apply to the particular case.
All these points can assist when dealing with competing applications. Areas to consider are:
1. Are there really competing as opposed to multiple applications?
What would be the effect if all the applications were granted? For example if two members of a department both want to work part time is there room for a job share plus recruiting either another full or part-time employee to take up the slack? Could an employee in another area where there is less work and/or a risk of redundancies fill the gap?
2. If the applications are competing is there another way to approach the issue?
If all existing full time staff ask to work part time and it is considered a full time role is needed in the department is there anyone else who can fill this role? Existing part timers may be eager to take on extra hours due to changes in their own circumstances. At least ask the question.
Would working from home part of the time be possible rather than a change of hours? Many clerical and administrative jobs can now be undertaken by using remote access technology. Is it really necessary for an employee to be in the office all the time? This may be a way of saving the cost of office space and at the same time being environmentally friendly.
3 Is there room for some give and take?
Is it possible to give the competing applicants some if not all of what they want? Discuss this with the applicants. It may be as simple as agreeing working hours somewhat different to those requested. On the other hand it could be more complicated – one person wants to spend time studying for an extra qualification another has child care responsibilities. The first may be happy with shorter hours just in academic term time with the other working part time in school holidays.
4. What if it really is not possible to accommodate all applications how is the choice to be made?
This will never be easy but one factor to take into account is the possible impact of refusal. Could rejecting a particular application lead to an allegation of discrimination? Classic cases relate to women not being allowed to work part time and consequent sex discrimination, but the issues are much wider than this. For example requests for flexible working by disabled employees may in effect be requests for reasonable adjustments with claims following if these are not granted.
In summary fully evaluate each application, make a reasoned decision and then be clear and frank as to the reasons for rejection.