Flexible Working – What Are Your Rights and Responsibilities?

flexible working

The concept of flexible working has become a hot topic in the UK. And with the introduction of a new law, more businesses will have to offer flexible arrangements.

Since this way of working is becoming so popular, it makes sense to acquaint yourself with the subject. Whether you’re an employee or a business owner, you should know your rights and responsibilities regarding flexible arrangements.

What is Flexible Working?

Take a moment and think about what a typical working arrangement looks like. You arrive at your workplace at 9 am. Take a couple of short breaks and a lunch break. Work through until 5 pm. Repeat this process five times every week.

But what if you could change how many hours, how often, and even where you work? In essence, that’s what the practice of flexible working is all about.

It allows employees to be more flexible in the duration of their working hours, where they work from and on what days and times they work.

Flexible working practices can include:

  • Part-time work
  • Term-time working (where a worker has a permanent contract but can take unpaid or paid leave during school holidays)
  • Job-sharing
  • Flexitime (employees can choose when their working days start and end, within certain limits)
  • Compressed hours (working hours are compressed into fewer but longer blocks of time during the week)
  • Annual hours (employees have a fixed amount of required annual hours, but the length of the working week and the length of workdays can vary)
  • Staggered hours (employees have different starting and finishing times)
  • Sabbaticals (employees can take unpaid extended leave)
  • Commissioned outcomes (employees don’t have fixed hours but must accomplish set goals or outcomes within a time frame)
  • Zero-hours contracts (employees have no guaranteed hours but must come to work when required)
  • Remote working
  • Hybrid working

Arrangements can include the above options, a combination of the above options, or other options. They can be made as formal agreements or informal arrangements. An employer may decide to rewrite an employee’s contract based on new working conditions or offer an arrangement without putting it into writing. Ideally, the employer and the employee will work together to find the most suitable option for both parties.

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Our Working from Home Training course educates trainees on setting up their home workstations effectively and comfortably to minimise distractions as well as reduce musculoskeletal injuries occurring from poor or inadequate working postures. 

What Are the Benefits of Flexible Working?

You might not be comfortable with a flexible arrangement. The structure of a fixed working week, with set hours, suits some people. Others feel their business is doing well and don’t wish to change things. And that’s all totally fine.

But, there can be significant benefits to setting up a flexible scheme. Due to the lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, many UK businesses had to implement flexible practices. And there were some surprising results. While the costs of implementing the arrangements were estimated to be £810 million, there was an estimated boost to the economy of £12.7 billion, according to a 2020 study from Pragmatix Advisory.

This massive saving was due to reduced absenteeism and higher productivity rates. Adding in lowered wage inflation rates due to the reduced costs of commuting and the overheads of managing an office, flexible practices wound up contributing an estimated £37 billion to the British economy. And that’s not all. Pragmatix Advisory advised that flexible working could create 51,200 jobs, adding £55 billion to the UK economy.

So, there are a lot of benefits involved in adopting these working practices on a larger scale. But what about the benefits of flexible working for smaller businesses? Allowing your employees to choose a flexible arrangement can:

  • Lower absenteeism
  • Reduce employee stress
  • Enhance staff retention
  • Improve productivity levels
  • Increase employee engagement levels
  • Attract more talented team members

Flexible arrangements can be a win-win situation for employers and employees alike.

What Is the UK Law On Flexible Working Practices?

It isn’t easy to understand UK laws on flexible working. The rights of employees and employers are covered under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Flexible Working Regulations 2014. In some cases, especially when it’s to do with a parent asking for flexible arrangements, the Equality Act 2010 can also apply.

These laws stipulate that an employee must have held their position for a qualifying period of at least 26 weeks before requesting flexible arrangements. They can only make a statutory flexible working request once a year.

Flexible working practices

As of April 2024, however, the UK government is set to bring in the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act. This Act will change the rules around flexible arrangements.

The new changes are as follows:

  • Employees will have the right to make a flexible working request from the first day of employment
  • Employees will have the right to make two statutory requests per year
  • Employers will have two months to reach a decision instead of the current three-month period
  • Employees will not be required to explain how the arrangement will function
  • Employers must consider all requests and deal with them in a reasonable manner
  • If a request is rejected, a consultation between the employer and employee must be arranged
  • An appeals process must be instigated if the request is denied

How to Apply for Flexible Working

When applying, an employee must submit a proposal in writing to their employer. The request can be a physical letter or an email. The application must:

  • Be made in advance of the desired start date
  • Include the date of the application
  • Clearly state that it is made under the statutory right to request flexible working
  • Clearly specify the desired flexible pattern
  • State the date from which the pattern will begin
  • Explain the impacts of the arrangement and how these changes can be dealt with

If you don’t include all the above information in your request, an employer can view it as incomplete. This means the employer doesn’t need to consider it until you have resubmitted the application with all the required details. If you refuse to submit another application, the employer has the right to consider it withdrawn.

Does an Employer Have to Agree to a Flexible Working Request?

Employers are not obligated to agree to a request for a flexible arrangement. If the employer believes the request is unreasonable or the arrangement will negatively impact the business, they are within their rights to refuse the request.

Employers must provide a written statement that they have acknowledged the request. They must describe why the result was denied and explain how the employee can appeal the decision. If the decision is still disputed by the employee, or they believe it has been made based on an incorrect understanding of the facts, they can take their case to an employment tribunal.

Employers can reject a flexible working request if:

  • It interferes with planned structural changes
  • It adds increased cost to the business
  • It reduces the business’s ability to produce quality work
  • It impacts the business’s ability to recruit additional staff
  • It will have a negative impact on staff performance
  • Work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • It will impair the ability of the business to meet customer demand
  • There is not enough work during the period required

Learn More About Flexible Working

Hybrid or remote working are two of the most common flexible arrangements. Unfortunately, many people don’t fully understand the health and safety impacts.

Employers and employees have responsibilities to ensure a safe workplace, no matter where the place of work is. Health and safety obligations don’t just stop because you’ve taken up a flexible arrangement.

Our Working from Home Training course is essential for anyone with a hybrid or remote working arrangement.

The course covers setting up a workstation at home, what risks to look out for, and how to eliminate or control those risks. It’s invaluable information for employers and employees with flexible arrangements.

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