Weekly dilemma: Flexible working

One of my employees, who lives in a house-share with three other people, has requested a change to his working hours for the next few weeks so that he is able to care for one of his housemates, who has had a serious accident. What are his rights?

All staff have a right to take reasonable, unpaid time off work where it is necessary for them to care for dependants who are ill or injured.

A ‘dependant’ is defined as a spouse, child, parent or person living in the same household as the employee who is not their employee, tenant, lodger or boarder. In some circumstances, this may include any person (not necessarily related or within the same household) who reasonably relies on the employee to assist or make arrangements for their care.

In April 2007, the rights of certain employees to make a request for flexible working were extended to cover those who care, or expect to care, for a ‘person in need’ of care, including employees who care for someone ‘living at the same address’ – ie, a housemate or a lodger.

If a request for time off is made, you should make further enquiries. Is there a family/personal relationship between the employee and their housemate? What exactly is wrong with the housemate, and why is that person dependent?

You should be satisfied that the employee meets all the eligibility criteria to make a request. If the employee does not, then providing the employee’s contract is silent on this issue, you may refuse the request. Alternatively, you may choose to be sympathetic and grant the request.

If the employee is eligible for time off, ascertain their exact requirements. Is it simply a few days off, or do they want a more permanent arrangement, like a reduction in contracted hours? If the latter, they should make a formal written request for flexible working, in accordance with the prescribed statutory procedure. You must then meet with the employee to consider whether the request is necessary and reasonable. In making this decision you will have to balance the employee’s needs against those of the business. There must be a sound and reasonable justification for rejecting the request.

Russell Brown, employment lawyer and partner, Glaisyers Solicitors

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