COVID-19: Dealing with flexible working requests post-lockdown

May 6, 2020


COVID-19 has forced millions of employers to adopt a flexible working approach since so many employees are now required to work from home.

It is therefore likely that the pandemic will result in an increase in the demand for flexible ways of working. Now is the time to review your flexible working policy so that you are ready to deal with any such requests, once the lockdown ends.

Rachel Ford-Evans explores how flexible working can be beneficial for both employers and employees. An employer can make financial savings by reducing office space, whilst many employees have reported that flexible working gives them a higher level of job satisfaction, a better work-life balance. It also can increase their ability to manage stress and their mental health. Remember that a happy employee is a more productive employee, and a greater asset to your business.

In the UK, an employee with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment can make a request for flexible working under the statutory scheme, for any reason. Employers have a duty to respond to the request in a reasonable manner and within a three-month period. An employee is only entitled to make one request in any 12-month period, so you do not need to worry about dealing with repeat requests from employees, which you have already rejected, within a short period of time.

Implementing flexible working practices

If you anticipate receiving flexible working requests after the lockdown comes to an end, then it is advisable to:

  • Speak to your employees at an early stage on an informal basis to find out what their individual needs and interests are;

  • Set out the benefits but also the limitations of flexible working to employees;

  • Make sure that you clearly communicate the rules of your flexible working policy to your employees so they know what they can and cannot do;

  • Establish a clear process for flexible working with designated roles and responsibilities for employees; and

  • Assure your employees who work on a flexible basis that their rights to employment benefits will continue and you will continue to support their career developments.

What should be included in a flexible working policy?

A flexible working policy should include details on the following:

  • How an employee can make a request, including who the request should be made to and what should be included in their application;

  • The process you will follow in order to accept or reject their request;

  • If a request is rejected, explain how they can appeal the decision; and

  • The time limits on dealing with requests.

After the lockdown restrictions have been lifted, if you are unsure whether an increase in, or maintaining levels of flexible working is the right decision for your business, you could try running a trial period of flexible working for each employee who makes such a request. At the end of the trial period, you should evaluate the benefits and the drawbacks of the flexible working arrangements and give feedback to each employee on how you wish to proceed in the future.

Remember, you are entitled to reject an employee’s request for flexible working arrangements if you have a legitimate business reason for doing so, such as costs, the detrimental impact on the ability to meet customer demands, the impact on quality and performance of work duties, or that it would put a strain on existing members of the employee’s team members. That said, you should also ensure that you do not inadvertently discriminate because of a protected characteristic that an employee may have when rejecting a request.

Should you request further information regarding flexible working, including assistance to review or to draft a suitable flexible working policy for your business, please contact Rachel Ford-Evans.



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