With 3rd-7th October 2016 being National Work Life Balance Week, employers may wish to give consideration to how “family friendly” their workplaces are. Flexible working requests are often made by employees and it is important that employers are aware of how to deal appropriately with such requests. In addition to the obvious benefits of flexible working for employees, such systems can have numerous benefits for employers including increased morale, productivity and ultimately a more loyal and happy workforce.
Flexible working requests can be made by an employee who has been continuously employed for a period of 26 weeks or more on the date they make their request. Employees can only make one application in a 12 month period.
There is a statutory process for dealing with a flexible working request. Under the Employment Rights (NI) Order 1996 an employee’s application for flexible working must:
The employer must hold a meeting to consider the employee’s application within 28 days of receipt of a valid application. The employee has the right to be accompanied at the meeting by a work colleague or trade union representative. The employer’s decision must be communicated in writing within 14 days of the meeting, and the employee offered a right of appeal.
Employers can only refuse a flexible working request on a limited number of specific business grounds and the written outcome must specify the business ground or grounds relied upon and why they apply. The grounds are: burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff, inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; detrimental impact on performance; a lack of work during the periods the employee proposes; and planned structural changes.
Any appeal must be lodged within 14 days of confirmation of the employer’s decision, and the appeal meeting arranged within 14 days of receiving the appeal notice. Again, the employee has the right to be accompanied. The appeal outcome must be confirmed within 14 days of the appeal meeting and should again state the grounds for the decision. These must be in direct response to the employee’s grounds of appeal and explain why the ground or grounds for refusal apply.
If the application is rejected, the employee may complain to an Industrial Tribunal, however, there are strict time limits to do so. The basis of the claim can be that the employer failed to adhere to the statutory procedure or that the employer’s decision was based on incorrect facts.
In the event the employee’s claim is successful the Tribunal may order that the employer reconsider the application, adhering to proper procedure, or that compensation is paid to the employee.
Katie Buchanan is an employment law solicitor at Worthingtons Solicitors and can be contacted at 028 9043 4015