Lockdown has forced many businesses to find a more flexible approach to the world of work. In the future, can we look forward to genuine flexible working?

Back in March businesses had to swiftly respond to the sudden lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In a matter of days businesses had to invest in IT equipment and ensure they had the right remote connection tools to swiftly facilitate working from home. Employers and employees were forced to find a more flexible approach and six months later many are still working remotely and loving the new ‘normal’. 

At the beginning, AHR Consultants were inundated with calls and emails from worried clients about the implications of home working. They wanted to know how they could manage their employees remotely, what to do if there were performance or conduct issues and how they could engage employees with very little or no face to face contact.

This has now changed to clients talking to us about how efficient their workforce has been working from home. Many employees have reported a better work/life balance due to a reduced commute and the significant financial benefit that comes from reduced travel costs. As a result, some are reluctant to return to the workplace despite the Government urging people to go back.

The future

Research by CIPD found before the pandemic only 5% of employees worked mainly from home. However, there are early indications that following lockdown many employees will wish to continue working from home or want a more flexible approach. 

Businesses must be prepared for an increase in flexible working requests over the next few months as a result of employees experiencing this new way of working. Employers must ensure they follow the ACAS Code of Practice on flexible working requests but should also be aware that if they are unable to fulfil the request it may have a negative impact on employee retention, candidate attraction and employee engagement.

Flexible working and the law

Under current legislation, any employee with more than 26 weeks continuous service may make a formal request for flexible working. They may make only one request in a 12-month period. Upon receipt of a request, the employer must consider the employee’s request in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable timeframe. The entire process (including an appeal where one is offered) should be concluded within three months.

When a request is agreed, it becomes a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment. A request for flexible working can only be refused on a number of specific grounds, including: the burden of additional costs; a detrimental impact on quality, performance or ability to meet customer demand; or an inability to reorganise work amongst other employees or recruit new staff.

Many employers choose to enhance their flexible working policies to go above and beyond the statutory minimum requirements. For example, some employers allow employees to request flexible working from day one of employment, rather than requiring them to meet the 26 weeks service criteria set out in the legislation.

If the employer has failed to deal with the application or the employee considers that the employer has decided the application on incorrect facts, then the employee can complain to an Employment Tribunal. This may result in the employer being ordered to reconsider the application or award compensation of up to eight weeks’ pay. Employers should also be mindful of whether any of the employees making a flexible working request are protected under the Equality Act before deciding which ones to reject or accept. 

Final thoughts

The pandemic has had a massive impact on the economy and is continuing to shape the future workplace. As the Government continues to encourage employees to return to the workplace and as employers make plans for employees to return, we anticipate a dramatic increase in flexible working requests. We hope that employers will be more willing to consider flexible working and recognise the benefits it can bring to both the business and the individual.

Call us today on 0345 076 2288 or send us an email if you have any queries regarding home working, flexible working or dealing with new flexible working requests. We are here to ensure you consider the legal implications and follow the correct legislation.