The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many employers and employees view flexible working. But there are differences between flexible working in the legal sense, and “working flexibly”, as a workplace concept. Here, Mary Goldsbrough, from our employment team explains what employers need to know.
Legally, once the Government has lifted the “stay home” requirement, employers can request that their employees go back to working from the office and working 9 to 5, as per their employment contract. If the employee refuses, this could be considered as a breach of contract and result in dismissal. But what are the alternatives?
Any employee that has over 26 weeks’ service can make a formal flexible working request in law, for any reason. A flexible working request can be a request to change their hours, the times they’re required to work, or the place of work – and could include a request to work from home.
There is no automatic right for an employee to be granted their flexible working request, and the grounds set out in law for refusal are wide. Most businesses would, historically, be able to reasonably refuse a request under one of the grounds that suit their business. But, if a business has operated successfully throughout the pandemic, it may be more difficult for them to refuse a request to work from home on the grounds that it’s “not workable.” Similarly, for businesses that have excelled during the pandemic – why change?
While there is a statutory framework in place to support flexible working, many businesses have decided to adopt flexibility as the default position in their workplaces, in any event, post-pandemic. This comes with its own challenges (notably health and safety, salary weightings, supervision of junior staff), but people who have enjoyed a hybrid approach to working during lockdown may be more likely to apply to and/or stay at a business that has abandoned rigidity for flexible working.
Ultimately, there must be a balance between taking a relaxed approach and ensuring boundaries remain in place. After all, structure is something that many employees have been desperate to re-establish in post-pandemic life.
As the procedure for handling statutory requests for flexible working is often complicated, we have put together a helpful guide that explains the process, you can access it here.
To learn more about how you can make the most of flexible working and working flexibly in the context of your organisation, please join us on Tuesday 9th September for an exclusive, interactive session, delivered in person by our employment law experts. You can register here.