Some employers have a sophisticated wellbeing offering, giving their employees access to a range of wellness programmes. Many employers, however, do not think about the benefit that offering flexible working can have: amongst other things, it improves staff morale, allows staff to work more autonomously – and can save on office space, too.
Flexible working – the new business imperative
Flexible working is no longer seen as just the domain of HR – an initiative that employment law demands that businesses offer – but as a business imperative. Hine Legal recently contributed to a White Paper on the subject of flexible working. Research for this Paper showed that Millennials prize flexible working above salary, making it a key tool for attracting and retaining good talent.
Many businesses now see it as delivering a real cost benefit, too. In a focus group of large employers, in which we participated, one bank had seen a saving of 20-30% on office space.
What do we mean by flexible working?
By flexible working we mean working anytime, anywhere – not necessarily on a reduced hours basis. We no longer live in a 9-5 world: work is moving more to being a thing we do rather than somewhere we go to. Customer demand 24 hours a day 7 days a week is forcing businesses to think more creatively about working arrangements.
But if you are an organisation thinking about offering more flexibility, where do you start? As experts in the impact that employment law has in the workplace, we have identified a few areas that you would be wise to consider.
An employer’s key legal obligations
- Flexible working must be available to all employees with over 26 weeks’ service (not just carers).
- Employees have a right to have their request for flexible working considered reasonably, and within a three month timeframe.
- An employer can reject a request based on any one of a number of “permitted business reasons”:
- the burden of additional costs
- detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
- inability to reorganise work among existing staff
- inability to recruit additional staff
- detrimental impact on quality
- detrimental impact on performance
- insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
- planned structural changes.
When considering flexible working requests, employers need to be mindful of other claims that may arise. For example, is the person submitting the request disabled? If so, granting their flexible working request might be a reasonable adjustment. Is the individual returning from a period of family leave? If so, discrimination claims may arise if they are able to show that they, and people of their gender, are put at a disadvantage when requests are dealt with (for example, men whose requests to work flexibly are taken less seriously than those of women).
What do you need to think about in your organisation?
- What paperwork is necessary? We recommend having a flexible working policy, to establish a transparent framework for dealing with requests and to ensure that staff are aware of what is on offer.
- Who has ownership of the flexible working policy?
- Who at a senior level is responsible for endorsing, reviewing and updating that policy?
- How will the policy be communicated to staff?
- How will employment contracts be drafted? This can be challenging if staff can work any time/anywhere – perhaps having unlimited holiday.
- Is there a role for employee focus groups within the business to say what is working well and to identify when issues arise?
- Is this an initiative that is principally driven by HR, or by the business? Our clients who have implemented the most successful flexible working programmes typically involve HR and the business working in partnership.
- How will you ensure consistency in requests being dealt with? In our experience, people cite lack of consistency in dealing with requests as one of their major concerns. HR can provide an invaluable role in overseeing requests that are made within a business and assessing how managers respond to them. (NB: Consistency is not the same as having a uniform response – as some areas of the business will be better able to cope with flexibility than others.)
- Will you train managers to understand how to deal with requests properly, and the risks of failing to do so?
- How will you ask staff to properly consider the impact of a flexible working arrangement on others when they submit their request?
- How will you frame the letter that is sent to a staff member approving or declining their request? This needs to be carefully phrased. Whilst the law only requires that a request is turned down on one of eight business grounds, in practice a more reasoned explanation from a business perspective about why a request cannot be granted is important to avoid discrimination claims.
- How do flexible working arrangements get reviewed? When flexible working requests are approved, they are generally permanent changes to the employment contract. However, we recommend having trial periods where possible. Even where the arrangement is permanent, as an employer you are not stuck with it if it is not working effectively.
- Technology is a great enabler of flexible working – but with it the boundaries between personal and home life become eroded. How will you manage the risk of staff suffering from stress or loss of work/life balance as a result?
What should you do next?
- If you have one, is your flexible working policy fit for purpose?
- Are there flexible working arrangements within your business which aren’t working successfully, and which you need help to deal with?
- Have you had complaints within your business that managers fail to deal with requests appropriately?
Hine Legal’s expert employment law team offers practical, user-friendly support and advice to help your organisation make flexible working work for your business. Please get in touch:
Cromwell House, 3rd Floor
14 Fulwood Place
London WC1V 6HZ
T: 0203 008 5718