It remains to be seen whether the government will stick to its roadmap for the complete reopening of society on 21 June and when the work from home guidance will be lifted. Many staff have been working from home for well over a year now. According to the ONS, the proportion of people working from home more than doubled in 2020 and highest in London and the Southeast where 46.4% of workers in London worked from home at some point in 2020.
According to the BBC, 43 out of 50 of the UK’s biggest employers do not plan to bring staff back to the office full time after restrictions ease, with hybrid working becoming the norm.
For employees who are due to come back, we have seen an increase in requests to change working patterns.
Right to request flexible working
Flexible working covers working from home, job sharing, part time, flexi-time, staggered hours, compressed hours, anything that isn’t full time in the office. All employees with over 26 weeks service are entitled to make a request.
Employers do not have to agree to a request, but the request can only be refused for at least one of the eight business grounds set out on the gov.uk flexible working page. The list includes not being able to reorganise work among other staff, unable to meet customer demand and lack of work during the proposed hours.
The request must be dealt with reasonably and within three months (unless agreed otherwise). This is likely to involve a meeting to discuss the request, and ideally an appeal process. If it goes wrong, employees can bring an employment tribunal claim if their request was handled unreasonably or if they are treated badly as a result of making it.
If the change is agreed, it will be a permanent contractual change and the employee will not be able to make another flexible working request within 12 months.
Following the pandemic, more employers are offering some form of flexible working, embracing this is likely to be a way of attracting and retaining staff who have got used to the positive impact of flexible working on their work life balance.
Employers are expected to be positive and open to a request. If you are unable to accommodate it, think carefully about which of the business grounds the refusal falls into and explain why.
Employers will have more flexibility to reject requests when work from home rules are lifted, but if it worked during lockdown, think about why it will not work now. Is there any way of mitigating this?
A blanket policy of requiring staff to work full time and from the office, will fall foul of discrimination legislation, so requests should be handled on a case by case basis.
Requests should be handled consistently. Larger employers especially may want to direct requests to HR to ensure that requests are handled consistently across the organisation.
If you are unsure, use a trial period, be clear about the timeframe and how success/failure of the new way of working will be measured during this time. If you find that it is not working, deal with it at the review date, rather than letting the trial period drift.
If you need assistance with any of the issues discussed in this article, contact Laura Claridge on 01689 887873 or email: email@example.com