The number of employment tribunal decisions relating to flexible working have increased 52% to reach a record high of 193 in the past year.
In 2019-20 the figure was 127, found research by employment law firm GQ|Littler. The previous highest figure was 160 in 2018-19.
Lawyers at the firm told Personnel Today that the number of claims relating to flexible working requests was likely to be driven by employees resisting attempts by employers to bring them back into the office or seeking to build more flexibility into their role.
They said that in some businesses there had been tensions between employers and employees over the timings of returning to the workplace as the easing of Covid restrictions have facilitated employers to reopen their workplaces.
Employees with parenting responsibilities and people suffering from health conditions or with vulnerable relatives were also likely to be contributing to the rise in claims.
In order to turn down a flexible working request from an eligible employee, employers must consider that one or more of eight prescribed reasons apply and reference it/them in their refusal. The most commonly utilised, said GQ|Littler lawyers, were that flexible working would have a “detrimental impact on performance” or a “detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand”.
Flexible working issues
Claims brought to the employment tribunals over flexible working are often brought alongside discrimination claims. One example seen by the firm’s lawyers involved a new mother who was awarded £185,000 by a tribunal, which ruled she had suffered indirect sex discrimination when her employer refused to consider her flexible working request.
Partner at GQ|Littler Sophie Vanhegan, said flexible working was a cause of conflict at some firms. She said: “The rise in cases relating to flexible working, suggests this is becoming a battleground within some businesses.”
“We may just be seeing the beginning of a tranche of claims taken against employers who’ve failed to deal with flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.”
She advised organisations to take an open-minded stance on such requests: “When it comes to bringing employees back into the office, employers should be wary of taking a heavy-handed approach. Many sectors are currently experiencing considerable challenges in hiring and retaining talent.
“At the same time, more candidates are now asking for flexible arrangements at recruitment stage, so may be put off by would-be employers who aren’t open-minded to these requests. Similarly, if existing employees feel that their requests aren’t properly considered, they may vote with their feet.”
Vanhegan added that employers who were unsure about granting employees’ flexible working requests should consider agreeing to these on a trial basis. This way, they could gather evidence as to whether or not the arrangement was workable for the business as well as the employee and then provide more detailed evidence if one of the eight specified reasons for refusal was met.