Advice on handling new flexible working scenarios

Previously ten million people had the right to request flexible working practices, which has now been increased to twenty million people.

While some businesses have complained that this increase in the right to request flexible hours will be detrimental to productivity, this change to the law also presents opportunities for businesses. Small companies in particular could benefit from this if, for example, they want to extend their opening hours without increasing costs.

However, as with any change in employment legislation, there are understandable concerns about the situations that employers may now face. Here are some examples of how best to resolve any issues that arise in the workplace as a result of today’s change in law.

The business does not have the budget for a proposed job-share arrangement

Two colleagues of the same level would like to apply for a job share, which you as a manager are open to. When looking over their applications, you discover that they both want to work three days a week, which isn’t possible on your current payroll. The contract they are proposing would create a burden of additional costs, and is unfeasible. In this position, you must be seen to consider alternatives. You could offer them each a 2.5 day week, or they could split the five days a different way between them. If an agreement cannot be reached, the employer would be allowed to turn down the application.

Current staff are unable to cope with workload caused by flexible working

A more experienced employee wants to work flexibly, but other junior members of the team are still being trained. It would not be possible for the employer to grant the request at this stage, as others team members will not be able to cope with the workload and responsibility, so customers or clients would suffer. In this instance, it is best to explain the business case behind turning down the request but offer a review of the request during an agreed time period when training has been completed and the rest of the team are more capable of picking up the slack.

A client or customer-facing employee requests compressed hours

An employee who liaises with clients or customers proposes to work longer hours four days a week in order to have one day off. This presents a problem as it restricts when meetings can be arranged. This situation would call for a trial period, after which you as a manager can ask the other members of the team how they thought it went, as well as asking customers how they felt about the arrangement. You may find that it works better for customers, as they were able to have meetings outside of their own working hours. Only on completion of the trial period should a permanent arrangement be agreed. The key in this situation is to be upfront with customers about the employee in question’s working patterns in order to manage expectations and avoid conflict or difficult questions.

Further advice

In small business in particular, the process of considering proposals for flexible working contracts can take its toll, especially when you have to reject some while accepting others.

To ease the process along, my advice is:

· Make sure employees take into account the effect their proposal may have on the business. This has to be set out in their proposal, and assists them in seeing things from your perspective.

· You, as an employer, must be seen to be exploring all options when considering a proposal, this can include trial periods and agreeing to reassess the contract at a later date.

· In order to avoid confusion, make sure any agreements are laid out in writing and the employee can, if they choose, have a witness present at any meetings.

· Most importantly, take into account the Equality Act when considering applications to avoid any possible discrimination issues that may arise.

Throughout the process, it is important to maintain effective communication to ensure employees know that they are being taken seriously and their proposals are being considered fairly and on an equal footing.


About Hugh Hitchcock

Hugh Hitchcock is a director at DJM Solicitors, a commercial law firm providing legal services to clients across the UK and Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Japan. His career spans 23 years spent in media and corporate law, and he specialises in dispute resolution. He previously spent six years at a leading media firm that acted for Elton John and The Beatles' record label Apple.