In light of recommendations made by the equalities watchdog to ensure all advertised jobs offer applicants flexible working arrangements, Kate Palmer, head of advisory and equality at HR consultancy Peninsula, explains what small business owners need to know about handling flexible working requests from staff.
Offering flexible hours to all job applicants will help combat pay disparities between men and women, while increasing job opportunities for disabled people, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The Commission also proposed that business owners should be made to collect annual statistics which set out their pay gaps for ethnic minorities and disabled people.
So what do small business owners need to know about handling flexible working requests?
Employees with 26 weeks’ service have the statutory right to request flexible working. The law on these requests changed in 2014 and there is no longer a need for the employee to be a parent or a carer in order to have their request dealt with.
The practical effect of this change is that an employee can request flexible working under the statutory right for any reason at all. It does not have to be in order for them to spend time with their children – as is often seen when female employees return to work after maternity leave – or so that they can drop their children off at school etc.
In reality, therefore, the employee can bring any reason to the table when asking for a change to their working hours. This prevents you from asserting that their reasons are not valid.
Asking for a change to working hours to be able to go to a weight loss class is therefore as valid a reason as making a request to look after children.
However, it is possible to refuse a flexible working request but the reason for refusal must be based on your business requirements rather than anything to do with the reasons given by the employee.
The grounds on which a request can be refused are prescribed by law, meaning that if the reason does not fall into that group, it will not be a valid refusal.
Some of the reasons are the burden of additional costs; being unable to re-organise work among existing staff or the result of approving the request causing a negative impact on quality, performance or ability to meet customer demand.
The reason you use must represent the factual situation in your organisation is because it is open to challenge; the employee can make a claim to an employment tribunal that the refusal was based on incorrect facts.
After having considered the request – which would normally include meeting with the employee – you need to inform them of the decision in writing and this should include the refusal reason.
There is no statutory right to appeal the decision but the statutory code of practice on flexible working indicates that if the employee appeals, you should hold an appeal process.
Kate Palmer is head of advisory at Peninsula Group
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