HR Question of the Week

Question

A client has just received a request for flexible working from an employee that wants to attend an aerobics class on Wednesday afternoons, do they have to allow this?

Answer

The rise in flexible working practices has been a common theme in employment as organisations seek to maintain an attractive and non-discriminatory working environment.

Following 26 weeks’ continuous service, every employee has the statutory right to request flexible working under the Employment Rights Act 1996. Employees must issue any requests in writing and clearly state what change in working conditions is being sought. Whilst all requests must be considered they can be denied if there is a sound business reason for doing so, such as having a detrimental impact on quality, performance or ability to meet customer demands.

Whilst it is not a statutory requirement, your client is advised to hold a meeting with the individual. It will be beneficial to have an open discussion to fully understand the nature of their request as there are many forms of flexible working, including changing hours or work or changing the place of work (i.e. homeworking). The meeting will allow your client to consider how the proposed changes may impact the success of the business and discuss any potential compromises.

Your client should take this opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the reasoning behind the request as they may be under a duty to allow flexible working where it would constitute a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010. For example, if a disabled employee states they need to attend exercise classes to alleviate the symptoms of their medical condition, your client should consider allowing this where possible to avoid costly discrimination claims.

All requests must be considered and decided upon within three months. If your client decides to approve the request for flexible working, then they should reflect this change in the employee’s contract of employment. If the decision is made to deny the request your client needs to provide written confirmation of this clearly explaining which of the legally permitted reasons are behind the refusal. Individuals should also be informed of their right to appeal the decision.

Whilst your client’s initial reaction may be to reject the request entirely they must tread carefully and give due consideration to each request. Taking a positive approach to the flexible working will not only improve equality for disabled employees but will also help to cultivate a positive workplace culture. However, your client should proceed with caution as allowing a flexible working request will set a precedent that they will have to follow with all other similar requests in the future

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