Flexible working

For most parents the school holidays can be a challenging time, and many employees may be facing difficulties when trying to balance childcare with work commitments. However, this can be just as much of a headache for an employer who has to manage and decide upon specific requests. If not already organised employees may be asking for holidays, additional time off, flexible arrangements or the ability to work from home. But as an employer what do you have to agree to and what can and should you refuse? 

Holiday entitlement is the simplest and easiest way for an employee to be off work, however this is as per company procedures and employees may not have enough entitlement, or other staff may also be off.  Staff who have exhausted holiday entitlement may request parental leave. This is a period of unpaid leave available to persons with children under the age of 18 to take time off to care for their children. Although this leave is a statutory right and is unpaid, it again comes with conditions attached and can be postponed if not convenient to the company.

An employee may request a variation to his or her hours, early or late starts or finishes to accommodate different childcare, compressed hours, term time only contracts or to reduce their working week. Whilst these requests do tend to be permanent and ongoing changes are often to deal with childcare, the request could be temporary and can in fact be made by any employee with the requisite level of service, not just those with young children. Employers have quite a wide remit to refuse flexible working requests provided there is a business reason to do so. However, there are specific processes that should be followed and advice should be taken in order to avoid discrimination issues arising. Another option that may be requested is to be allowed to work from home, presumably so that the parent can be at home with the children.  It is usual for an employee to have a place of work, and therefore be required to attend that place, unless the employee has an express agreement, whether in a contract or otherwise, that he or she can work from home. This is at the discretion of the employer, with factors such as information security, access to information, monitoring and supervision, and whether the employee can actually fulfil their duties needing to be considered.

Sofie Lyeklint of Lawspeed said “whilst it is good for staff morale and retention to try and be flexible and accommodate staff requests, employers do have rights to refuse or postpone requests if they do not work for the business. However, refusals should be handled carefully, with advice in order to ensure that due process is followed, refusals are properly reasoned and discrimination claims avoided. Clear policies on these matters are a very good starting point and working with employees in advance to plan for absence or alternative arrangement is always a better strategy than having to deal with sickness or emergency absence because planning has fallen through”.

For advice on requests, or for assistance with your policies and procedures please contact Lawspeed on 01273 236 236.   

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