How do I deal with an increase in Flexible and Homeworking requests
In response to Coronavirus many businesses have had to make changes in the way they work, including many employees working from home or working more flexible hours. For some employees this isn’t desirable and they’ll be keen to get back to normality. However, for others, home and flexible working will be very welcome and they may wish to continue to work in that way once businesses begin to return to (the new) normal. In addition, in order to comply with ongoing health and safety responsibilities linked to social distancing, it may also be necessary for businesses to continue to embrace home and flexible working into the future.
So, how do you deal with an increase in requests for homeworking or flexible working?
Flexible working can take many forms and incorporates any requests for reduced hours, alternative working patterns, changes in location of work and homeworking. Requests for flexible working can be made for both permanent changes and temporary changes.
Employees have a statutory right to request flexible working and in order to make a request the following eligibility criteria apply:
- A statutory request can only be made by an employee.
- The employee must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the date the request is made.
- Only one request may be made under the statutory scheme in any 12-month period.
- Requests cannot be made by agency workers.
An employee’s application must be in writing, be dated, state that the application is made under the statutory procedure, specify the change they are seeking and when they want it to start and explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks the change would have on the employer and how such effect could be dealt with. It should also state whether a flexible working request has been made in the previous 12 months.
An employer who receives a flexible working request under the statutory scheme must:
- Deal with it in a reasonable manner, which incorporates a requirement to speak to the employee about the request and give reasonable consideration to it.
- Notify the employee of its decision within the decision period, which is currently 3 months from the date the request is received by the employer.
- Only refuse a request on one or more of the following grounds:
- the burden of additional costs;
- detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
- inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
- inability to recruit additional staff;
- detrimental impact on quality;
- detrimental impact on performance;
- insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or
- planned structural changes.
An employer may receive requests for flexible working from more than one employee at the same time. It is important that each request is considered on its merits in the context of the business. They ought to be considered in the order they are received. It may still be possible to accept all of them, but you will need to take into account any impact that accepting one request will have on the ability to accept the next. It might also be possible to have a discussion with the employees who have made requests to see whether, with some adjustment or compromise by all of them, each can be accommodated. If this does not provide a solution the employer may want to consider the position of those members of its workforce that already work flexibly and consider whether with some adjustment or compromise on their part (should they be willing to vary their arrangements) everyone can be accommodated.
The overriding requirement is for the employer to deal with a request for flexible working in a reasonable manner. It will be important for the employer to maintain a consistent approach to dealing with individual requests when it receives more than one request at the same time. Where the employer is trying to facilitate several requests, it will need to take account of any particular features of a flexible working request, such as caring obligations or accommodating a disability, that may limit the employee’s ability to vary the working arrangements they have requested.
Despite the suggestion that employers need not make value judgments about requests and that they deal with them in the order in which they are received, it is almost inevitable that employers will prioritise requests from employees who may have additional protection, in the form of being able to bring a discrimination claim, if their request is rejected.
Homeworking is often considered to be a form of flexible working and can include both working from home on a permanent basis or with some days at home and some in the workplace.
Homeworking has benefits and drawbacks for both employers and employees.
While homeworking is regarded by some as a “perk” for employees, employers should be aware of the potential benefits of homeworking. These include:
- Reduced overhead costs. The need for expensive office space and other office overheads can sometimes be reduced and relocation costs can sometimes be avoided. Although, with the impact of coronavirus, hot desking is likely to be curtailed.
- Increased productivity. Homeworkers are spared travel time and associated stresses; there is some evidence that the time gained leads to an increase in work output.
- Better motivation. Many workers respond well to homeworking.
- Skills retention. Workers who might otherwise be lost because of family relocation, new family responsibilities or temporary or permanent disability may stay if offered appropriate arrangements, including temporary or permanent homeworking.
- Team flexibility. Geography and travel time are less of an impediment and teams of workers can be assembled more easily.
- Organisations geared to homeworking may be better able to withstand external disruptions such as transport problems, adverse weather conditions and even terrorist threats. Indeed, established homeworking can form an important part of disaster management planning.
However, there are reasons why an organisation may be reluctant to embrace homeworking:
- Loss of control and damage to team working and culture.
- Different management styles may be required to oversee homeworkers, and managers may not be able to support work or workers to the same degree.
- The business may become overly dependent on technology, and there may be significant duplication of equipment.
- The employer will be reliant to a large degree on trust and may fear that some workers will not “pull their weight”.
- Potential data security breaches.
Requests are often made for homeworking by employees or workers who believe they will find it easier to manage their work and personal commitments. What appears as an advantage may, however, not always prove to be one in practice. Some homeworkers find it more difficult to keep work and home life separate, not always knowing when to stop. This also suggests that, in reality, the common concern shared by employers, that a homeworker may not do their share, is often misplaced. Another potential drawback for homeworkers is that they may experience loneliness and boredom, feel alienated from their organisation and developments within it, and may miss workplace facilities.
When an employee makes a request for homeworking it should be addressed using your flexible working request procedures.
There are a number of things to consider when making a decision on such a request including; what equipment will be required, health and safety obligations relating to the workplace within the home, terms and conditions around hours of work, any requirements to attend the office and team meetings, the employer’s right to enter the home and any contributions towards utilities.
It is often worth considering such arrangements on a trial basis with a right to terminate the arrangement and revert to original arrangements should such a trial prove ineffective for either party.