FAQ: flexible working rights

Confused
about the flexible working rights which come into force in April 2003? Peter
Chandler and Jo Stubbs of XpertHR
answers some commonly asked questions and offers an action checklist to help
you prepare

Do
employees have the automatic right to change to a more flexible working pattern?

No.
From 6 April 2003 eligible employees have the legal right to apply to their
employer for a more flexible pattern of working hours or for more flexible
working arrangements. The employer is duty bound to give careful consideration
to any such application and to give specific business reasons for doing so if
it is unable to accommodate the employee’s request for flexible working.

Which
employees are eligible to request flexible working?

In
order to be eligible to request flexible working an employee must have 26
weeks’ continuous service with his or her employer, be the parent, adoptive
parent, foster parent or guardian of a child under the age of six (18 in the
case of a disabled child) or the spouse or partner of such a person, and have
or expect to have responsibility for the upbringing of that child.

How
should an employer respond to a request for flexible working?

Within
28 days of receiving an eligible employee’s application for flexible working,
the employer must either accept the application and notify the employee
accordingly in writing, or arrange a meeting with him or her to discuss the
application and how it might best be accommodated or to consider alternative
options. Within 14 days of this meeting, the employer must write to the
employee either agreeing to the application and specifying the contract
variation agreed and the start date on which it is to take effect, or refusing
the application, stating which of the specified grounds for refusal it
considers to be applicable and explaining why those grounds apply in relation
to the application.

Is
there any right of appeal where an employer rejects an application for flexible
working?

Yes.
If an employee is unhappy with the employer’s decision he or she has 14 days in
which to lodge an appeal. Within 14 days of this notice of appeal being given
the employer must hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the appeal. The
employer must then convey its decision to the employee in writing within 14
days of the appeal hearing. If the appeal is upheld, the employer’s letter must
specify the contract variation agreed to and the date from which it is to take
effect. If the appeal is dismissed, the letter must set out the grounds for the
decision and contain sufficient explanation as to why those grounds apply.

In
what circumstances can an employer reject a request for flexible working?

An
employer’s refusal to accept an eligible employee’s application for flexible
working must be based on one or more specific grounds. These are the burden of
additional costs; a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; an
inability to reorganise work among existing staff or recruit additional staff;
a detrimental impact on quality or performance; insufficiency of work during
the periods the employee proposes to work; and planned structural changes.

ACTION
POINTS


Alert relevant managers and supervisors to the legal right of eligible
employees to apply for a more flexible pattern of working hours.


Ensure that employees with children under the age of six (or under the age of
18 if disabled) are made aware of their qualified right to apply (in writing)
for flexible working and the procedure for doing so, and that they understand
that any consequent variation in their terms and conditions of employment will
be permanent.


Develop written procedures for dealing with applications for flexible working,
ensuring that they are consistent with the procedures laid down in the Flexible
Working (Procedural Requirements) Regulations 2002.


Ensure that those members of staff responsible for dealing with requests for
flexible working respond to any such application within 28 days, either
accepting it or setting up a meeting to discuss it in more detail or to
consider alternative arrangements.


Remind applicants of their right to be accompanied by a fellow worker when
attending any meeting (or appeal hearing) to discuss their application for
flexible working.


Be aware that the rejection of an employee’s application for flexible working
must be on one or more specified grounds only.


Ensure that any employee whose request for flexible working is rejected is
informed of the right of appeal against that decision and the procedure for
doing so.

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