Making a request for flexible working is a statutory right and refusal of a request can lead to costly consequences as one employer found.
A sales manager in an estate agent requested reduced working hours upon her return from maternity leave to enable her to collect her child from nursery. She requested to work four days a week finishing at 5pm rather than 6pm. Her request was refused by her employer who cited a variety of reasons why part time working was not viable including customer demand and financial impact. The employee went back to her employer to see if an alternative working schedule that suited the business needs could be found, however the business deemed their decision as final. As a result, the employee resigned and raised a grievance regarding the way in which her flexible working request was handled.
Employers need to be aware that there is a statutory process which needs to be followed when a formal request for flexible working has been received. This includes meeting with the employee if the initial request cannot be accommodated and discussing what other options may be available with a view to finding an arrangement that works for both parties. If a request cannot be accommodated there are eight reasons that an employer can rely on however, these should be reinforced by robust business reasons and evidence as to why a proposed arrangement will not work. Trying to shoehorn the rejected request into one of the eight reasons without further reasoning could be problematic and could lead to an employee making a tribunal claim.
Whilst the compensation for failure to comply with the statutory process to handle flexible working requests, or deal with a request in a reasonable manner, is capped at 8 weeks’ pay, employers could find these complaints are coupled with claims of discrimination too. Claims for discrimination, both direct or indirect, associated with flexible working requests can be based on sex, age or disability and if successful, attract uncapped compensation awards. Employees can also argue that the failure to consider the request is a fundamental breach of contract and therefore could resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.
If a request for flexible working is received from an employee, employers need to educate themselves on the process to follow and give due consideration to the request. The right flexible working arrangement can reap benefits for both parties so not only does it mean legal obligations will be met and the risk of tribunal claims reduced, the benefits to the business are there too.