Legal 101

Flexible working explained

Natalia HongNatalia Hong
Last updated on:
July 18, 2022
Published on:
July 18, 2022

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Before the pandemic, going to the office during the usual business hours seemed to be the most common choice of working arrangement. All that changed in the past two years with more companies offering flexible working modes, from hybrid options to remote working, new alternatives to getting work done are becoming more popular. This article explains what flexible working is and the different types of flexible working arrangements which are available to employers.

What is flexible working?

Companies can choose to offer various alternatives to the “traditional working hours”, be it remote working, such as working from home, or hybrid working where the employee chooses the number of days they come into the office, or even their own working hours. These new modes of working are also known as ‘flextime’ or ‘flexitime’. 

These types of working arrangements can help improve the work-life balance and satisfaction of employees, which in turn can contribute to a decrease of absence among staff and a reduction of work-related stress. These arrangements can also lead to higher levels of motivation among staff, as well as higher levels in productivity. 

What are the different types of flexible working arrangements?

Today companies have various flexible working arrangements to choose from which include:

  • working from home 
  • working remotely 
  • working in shifts
  • working part-time
  • compressed hours, where you work your usual hours in the days of your choice 
  • job sharing
  • term-time work, so employees do not work during the school holidays
  • annualised hours, where the usual hours are organised around the number of hours to be worked over a year compared to over a week

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How can an employee request a flexible working option?

There are two ways an employee can proceed with a flexible working request, they are:

  • a statutory request
  • a non-statutory request

Since 2003, there are certain groups of people that must be offered a flexible working option under UK law. Parents with children under six years of age, and parents of disabled children under eighteen years of age, have the legal right to request for flexible working arrangements. However, if a request for a flexible working arrangement is refused, an employee can check for grounds of discrimination.

How to make a statutory request?

As this is a request set out in law with regards to flexible working, there is a procedure dictated by law that the employee and employer would have to abide by, during the flexible working request. 

It is necessary to first check if the employee can make a statutory request as only certain employees are entitled to a request. 

  • To have the statutory right for a flexible working arrangement request, the employee must be an employee that has worked for the employer for 26 weeks in a row on the date of the application.

It is also important to note that even if all the entitlement conditions are fulfilled, the employee does not have the right to request a flexible working arrangement if:

  • The employee is an agency worker. With the exception of agency workers who are returning from parental leave. They will have the right to a flexible working arrangement request.
  • The employee has made a flexible working request within the past 12 months, regardless of whether the request has been approved or not.
  • The employee is a shareholder unless they have returned from parental leave in the last 14 days.

Should the employee not meet the criteria for making a statutory request, there is an option to make a non-statutory request. The employee can also find out if they can make a request under the employer’s scheme.

How to make a non-statutory request

As mentioned above, if the employee does not meet the criteria to make a statutory request for a flexible working arrangement, there is an option to make a non-statutory request. This option is not prescribed by law so there is no set process for proceeding with this request. However, it is strongly advised that the employee makes their request in writing to ensure that there is clarity in what they are asking for. 

It is also important that the employee checks with the employer if the company has their own scheme and if so, what the rules are, as their scheme might be more accommodating. For example, the employer’s scheme might be eligible to all employees regardless of their pre-existing or existing circumstances. As such even if an employee does meet the requisites of a statutory request, they might find that a non-statutory request could be more appropriate, for example if the arrangement they are seeking are for a short period of time.

What are the next steps?

After the flexible working request has been made, the employer will need to review it and make a decision. If the employer agrees to the flexible working arrangement, it could entail an adjustment in the current employment contract. The employee should check if any changes to the contract are permanent or temporary. The employee should also let the employer know if they do not wish for permanent changes to the current employment contract. For example, they might request a trial period to see how things progress or a temporary change in the short term.

The employee should also ensure that the new working arrangements do not affect their statutory employment rights, such as:

  • Maternity leave
  • Minimum notice
  • Unfair dismissal
  • Pension scheme

Employees who request flexible working arrangements must bear in mind that any changes to their working hours should not affect their status in an occupational pension scheme. It is unlawful discrimination for part-time employees to be excluded from an occupational pension scheme.

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The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice you should rely on.

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