With most workers now able to ask their employers for flexible working arrangements, what should small owners do when they receive a request?
What are the new flexible working rules?
Since June 30th 3014, new employment laws allow almost all full-time and part-time workers to seek changes to their contractual terms to enable them to work flexibly, providing they have been working for the firm for at least 26 weeks (and subject to one request being made in any 12-month period).
Flexible working may be something many large organisations can absorb (or even welcome), but this may not be the case for a large number of smaller firms.
The first step any small business (with employees) should consider is to draw up a clear policy on how your business will handle any requests (although this doesn’t necessarily have to be communicated to your employees in writing).
The new employment regulations compel employees to make any flexible working request in writing – including details such as the date, the proposed changes, and how these changes are likely to affect the organisation.
A request may be for a number of different working arrangements, including job-sharing, part-time work, a temporary change in circumstances, or a change in location.
Employers are obliged to consider any requests in a reasonable and timely manner whilst also working out the likely impact any changes would make on the business.
Typically, business owners are expected to consider any requests within 3 months of being asked.
You should take time to consider the likely impact flexible working arrangements would have on your business.
A change may be impractical for many reasons (e.g. your workers cannot perform their duties away from base), or you may actually find that you can save money on the fixed costs associated with leasing office space by letting your staff work from home. It could be a good thing for your business.
You don’t have to grant the request
Jo Bostock, business adviser at the Forum of Private Business, says that small business owners that they are under no legal obligation to grant a request. There may well be legitimate reasons why your business may not be able to accommodate changes to the way its employees carry out their roles.
Specifically, you can dismiss a request if any of the following are true
- The extra costs involved are unacceptable to your business.
- Your business cannot reorganise the current workload among the other staff.
- The quality of your output would be compromised by the change.
- The change would have a detremental impact on the ability of the business to meet demand from clients / customers.
- The change would impact individual or business performance.
- There is not enough work during the periods in question to facilitate the request.
- The flexible working request cannot be accommodated into any existing plans to reorganise the business.
What happens when you make your decision?
Once you have considered a request for flexible working, you should let your employee know right away.
Jo Bostock says: “Ideally this should be in writing to avoid any confusion later, and where the request is granted you should also set out the changes that will be made to your employee’s terms and conditions. In addition, you should also include details of how the employee can appeal the decision if they so wish.”
“Multiple requests should be dealt with in the order they are submitted and your decision on which are more deserving must not based on value judgements. Also for very small businesses, granting one request may mean that you have to turn down a second request based on a changing work situation.”
If you decide to decline a request, the employee may decide to take further steps. You may be able to negotiate with your employee and find a mutually beneficial arrangement, or you may need to seek external help to resolve the matter.
You can find out more via GOV.UK, and download this handy Acas guide for a complete guide to flexible working (PDF).