Flexible working is becoming popular in the 21st century workplace, as an increasing number of people seek to combine an active family life with full-time employment. Employers have become more aware of the benefits that flexible working can bring to their business: these can include greater staff retention and better morale along with increased efficiency and productivity. Indeed, for many global businesses some kind of flexible working policy is becoming essential for co-ordinating with their international offices, and recent changes in legislation have significantly increased the number of people with a legal right to apply for flexible working.
Who has the right to apply?
Any employee can apply informally and ask for flexible working hours; whether or not you approve an informal request like this is entirely down to your company's flexible working policy. But only two kinds of people have a legal right to apply: employees with young or disabled children, and employees who are caring for infirm or disabled adults. Currently, parents with children aged six or under have the right to apply, but from April 2009, this right will be extended to parents with children who are sixteen or under.
An employee must have been working for a company for at least 26 weeks before they can apply for flexible working. For those with a legal right to apply, only one application can be made every 12 months.
What are some of the options for flexible working?
There are numerous flexible working options, and it is important to consider which of them can practically be applied for your business. Some of the most common are:
- Flexible hours. An employee works full or part time hours, but when these hours are worked is fully negotiable. An employee could start and finish two hours later than usual, for example.
-Zero hours contract. A contract that has no fixed hours. The employee works only when there are specific tasks to complete.
-Work from home. An arrangement where an employee works partly or fully from home.
-Job Share. The full time role of a single employee is shared between two or more people on a part time basis.
How do I handle a flexible working request?
Just like any other negotiation with your employees, it is important to follow the correct legal process when handling an application for flexible working. Failure to do so could leave you vulnerable to litigation, so make sure you draw up proper legal documents and follow a clear procedure when considering flexible working for a member of staff.
As part of your flexible working policy, make sure that the employee puts in a written request clearly stating their reasons and the kind of flexible working that they would like to apply for. You should deliver a first reply within 14 days. If you approve their application, you should inform them in writing and draw up a revised contract of employment. If they are going to work from home, you need to agree how their work will be monitored e. g. through daily task lists and timesheets, weekly meetings, and so on.
You can reject an application for flexible working, but you must provide an explanation, based on a sound business reason, and give your employee the right to appeal your decision. Rejections need to be judged carefully - your employee may well consider working somewhere else if you reject their request completely. See if a compromise can be reached, or if there is another flexible working option that may be appropriate.
Useful legal documents
It is very useful to have a written company policy on flexible working, outlining under what circumstances flexible working will be considered, whether any particular positions will be exempt, and so on and so forth. This will give you something to refer to in case of a dispute, and will also be useful to your staff. You may also wish consider some letter templates for certain legal documents, such as a range of flexible working contracts.
Flexible working can seem difficult to implement correctly, but as long as there is clear procedure and consistent company policy, it can bring great benefits for employees and the business alike.
Iain Mackintosh is the managing director of Simply-Docs. The firm provides over 1100 legal documents and small business templates covering all aspects of business from equal opportunities in the workplace to a sample flexible working policy . By providing these legal documents (with content provided by leading commercial lawyers, HR and health & safety consultants) at an affordable price, the company intends to help small businesses avoid costly breaches of regulation and legal action.