Certain employees have the right to request flexible working. If you receive such a request, you have a legal duty to give it serious consideration.
However, regardless of the legal obligations, businesses are appreciating more and more how flexible working can benefit their performance, eg through improved staff motivation and productivity.
This guide details the law surrounding flexible working requests, looks at how flexible working can benefit your business and outlines how you might introduce a flexible working policy.
The right to request flexible working - the eligibility criteria
To have the statutory right to make a flexible working request, an employee has to meet certain criteria - although there's no reason why you can't consider requests from employees without this right.
General eligibility requirements
To be eligible to make a statutory flexible working request, a person must:
be an employee - agency workers do not qualify
have worked for you continuously for at least 26 weeks on the date they make their request
not have made another statutory request during the past 12 months
The employee can only make an application to care for either:
a child under 17
a disabled child who is under 18, and who is in receipt of disability living allowance
certain adults who require care
The law does not specify any particular minimum level of care
Under the statutory arrangements, applications cannot be made for any other reason.
Parents who can make flexible working requests
A parent can request flexible working if they are either:
the mother, father, adopter, guardian, special guardian, foster parent or private foster carer of the child or a person who has been granted a residence order in respect of a child
married to, or the partner or civil partner of, the child's mother, father, adopter, guardian, special guardian, foster parent or private foster carer or person who has been granted a residence order in respect of a child
Carers who can make flexible working requests
A carer can request flexible working if they care, or expect to be caring, for either:
a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative
someone who lives at the carer's address
A relative is a mother, father, adopter, adoptee, guardian, special guardian, parent-in-law, son, son-in-law, daughter, daughter-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, uncle, aunt or grandparent. Step-relatives, adoptive relationships and half-blood relatives are also included.
The frequency of flexible working requests
Employees can make one application every 12 months - even if the second request in this period was for a different caring responsibility. For example, an employee wishing to make a request to care for an adult would still have to wait a year even if their previous request had been to enable them to care for a child.
Each year runs from the date the first application was made.
Before making a subsequent request, the employee must - at the date of application - still meet the eligibility criteria.
The types of flexible working requests employees can apply for
Eligible employees can make a request to, for example:
change the hours they work
change the times when they are required to work
work from another location of the business or from home (whether for all or part of the week)
Proof of parental/caring responsibilities
Employees do not have to give you proof of their caring relationship. Therefore you should accept applications in good faith and make the decision on whether or not to grant a request solely on business grounds.
In addition, an employee does not have to show:
That the child or adult in question requires any particular level of care. For example, an employee wanting to work flexibly to look after their mother does not have to show that the mother is unable to cope on her own or that she is disabled and qualifies for disability living allowance.
Why they themselves must provide that care. For example, a father asking for reduced hours in order to care for his child does not have to show why the care cannot be provided by the mother or by somebody else.
If you think that an employee is abusing the right to request, eg they don't have a qualifying relationship with the child or adult in question, you can ask for evidence.
However, under the legislation the employee does not have to provide proof of their relationship or the level of care required. You should make the decision on whether or not you can grant a request based on business grounds rather than the employee's personal circumstances. If you still suspect that the employee is abusing the right, you should use your disciplinary procedures.
What types of adult care are relevant?
Carers' patterns of care-giving vary widely from individual to individual - both in the nature and the extent of the care given. Examples may include:
escorting to doctors' appointments
keeping the care recipient company
help with financial matters or paperwork
supervision of the person being looked after
help with personal care, eg dressing, bathing, toileting
help with mobility, eg walking, getting in and out of bed
housekeeping, eg preparing meals, shopping, cleaning
nursing tasks, eg daily blood checking, changing dressings
This list is not exhaustive.
Flexible working requests and the contract of employment
If you accept an employee's flexible working request, this may lead to a permanent change to their contractual terms and conditions.
If this is the case, then the employee may not revert back to the previous working pattern unless you agree otherwise.