Embracing Flexibility in Your Work Schedule: A Legal Perspective

Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, such as flexible working hours and remote working. Effective from 6 April 2024, the UK’s new Flexible Working Regulations have been introduced, impacting both employers and employees.

Navigating the legal complexities of the recent changes can be challenging, so it’s imperative that both workers and hirers have a firm understanding of employment law, especially in relation to the new rules. Read on to discover the legal implications of embracing flexibility in your work schedule and how a variable work schedule can work for you and your employer.

Understanding flexible working

There are various types of flexible working arrangements, including:

  • Working from home
  • Hybrid working
  • Job sharing
  • Part-time working
  • Term-time working
  • Compressed hours: working the same number of hours across fewer days
  • Flexitime: agreed-upon flexible start and finish times

The requirement for flexible working has greatly increased over the last two decades, with workers hoping to achieve the ideal work–life balance. Employees want to ‘have it all’, aim to balance their work and family life and are no longer willing to sacrifice one for the other.

Flexible working arrangements can relate to work productivity: some employers believe that remote working leads to reduced productivity, for example, whereas many employees believe that variable working increases their productive capacity.

Adapting to flexible work policies: A legal perspective

Under the previous employment rules, workers had to be employed for at least 26 weeks before they could request flexible working arrangements. The new rules allow a request to be made from day one of employment, meaning an extra 2.2. million UK employees are able to make a request.

The new changes also mean that a quicker decision must be made: employers previously had three months in which to make their decision, but under the new rules, they have only two months.

Employees can request to change:

  • the number of hours they work
  • when they start or finish work
  • the days they work
  • where they work

This is called ‘making a statutory application’, and all employees have the employees legal right to make a request.[1]

The steps for making a statutory application are as follows:

1.    The employee writes to the employer.

2.    The employer and employee discuss the request, and the employer makes a decision on it within two months (longer if agreed by both parties).

3.    If the employer agrees to the request, the employee’s contract is changed to reflect the new terms and conditions.

4.    If the employer disagrees with the application, they must provide the business reasons for their decision to the employee.

An employee whose flexible working request is rejected may have grounds to complain to an employment tribunal. In any case, the request must be discussed by both parties before an application is refused.

The regulations signify the removal of the requirement for employees to explain to their employer the ways in which their requested working schedule may affect the business, as well as what can be done to remedy these effects. Additionally, employees can make two applications for flexible working within a 12-month period; under the old regulations, employees could make only a single request during this time frame.

Implications for employers

The new Flexible Working Regulations represent several challenges to employers, such as the need to review their existing flexible working policies to ensure they align with the new rules. Employers should also expect a higher volume of flexible working requests, owing to the publicity surrounding the changes and to the high volume of additional employees now within the scope of the request.

Managing remote-working teams is another obstacle for employers: allowing more people to work from home means organising remote meetings, relying on employees to work productively and maintaining workplace rapport despite the distance between workers.

The rules signify an opportunity for firms to upskill their managers so they can deal efficiently and empathetically with flexible working requests and to embrace a shift in workplace dynamics, reaping benefits that go far beyond simply complying with the law. Cost efficiency is another benefit of flexible working practices: the reduced need for office space means the business can save money.

There’s also the potential for firms to attract a more diverse talent pool. There may be many highly skilled candidates who would otherwise have remained under a firm’s radar but who are now available for employment owing to this flexibility.

Improved employee satisfaction due to more flexible working is a clear benefit to employers. Enhanced morale means better communication and readiness to work, which leads to reduced absence rates, increased productivity and improved retention – the ultimate aims of any business.

Implications for employees

There are drawbacks to flexible working that should be considered by employees. For example, some people may feel isolated if they’re working from home and crave the social aspect of an office environment. Home working can also involve many distractions, so employees are required to be self-disciplined and proactive towards their work to maintain their focus.

The benefits of flexible working, however, are vast. Arguably the most desirable outcome is greater time spent with the family. Many employees have a family, which comes with its own set of responsibilities and dilemmas. Working around the family is the goal for many workers, and a variable working schedule is the perfect solution.

There are numerous positive financial implications of flexible working. For example, money can be saved on fuel, washing, office clothing and vehicle maintenance by working from home, whether it’s one day a week or five. Less time spent on commuting means more time spent on family and social life.

Employees today appreciate having increased control over their time. They like to plan their working week so that they can be productive in all aspects of their life. For example, some people work better at sunrise and others later in the evening, and there are people who work better alone than in an office environment, and vice versa. Flexible working practices allow for personal preferences.

How and when does an employee request flexible working hours?

As previously stated, employees can now make a request for flexible working hours from day one of their employment. However, as there is no guarantee that the request will be granted, workers should consider the implications of having their request rejected and whether they want to apply for a particular position if they can’t work the hours they hope to.

Employers may require a standard template to be completed to make an application, or an email may be sufficient. The request letter should include:

  • the date of the request
  • a statement that this is a statutory request for flexible working
  • details of how the employee wants to work flexibly and when they wish to start
  • a statement stating if and when a previous application has been made, including the date of the application

Employees should also consider when the application is made. For example, a worker on maternity leave should make the request at least two months before returning to work so the decision is made by the time they’re due back.

Although no longer mandatory, an employee can still choose to prove that there will be no negative impacts on the business to help persuade an employer to accept their request. There is also the option of suggesting a trial period.

The case for flexible working

In summary, although employers and employees may encounter certain challenges to flexible working arrangements, the benefits for both are numerous.

The need for flexible working is only increasing, so workers and hirers should align their expectations with the current trend and ensure that the regulations are fully understood, leading to a more harmonious and productive work environment and working relationship.


Posted in: Employment Law

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