End of working from home? Your rights to flexible working explained

A growing number of employers are asking their staff to return to working in the office as companies edge further away from post-Covid attitudes.

Working from home has become a popular choice for millions of people around the United Kingdom, with many now used to a hybrid model.

So, with a return to the office being mooted in a number of industries, what are your rights if you wish to submit a flexible working request?

ITV News spoke to an employment law expert to answer the key questions.

What are the rights of an employee?

Earlier this year, all employees in England, Wales and Scotland gained the legal right to request flexible working. Different flexible working rules exist in Northern Ireland.

Consequently, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working, and can ask for a change to the following:

  • The number of hours they work

  • When they start or finish work

  • The days they work

  • Where they work

What must an employer do?

Employers are required to deal with a flexible working request in a "reasonable manner", according to gov.uk.

For example, this could include evaluating the pros and cons of an application, or discussing potential alternatives to a request.

Karen Baxter, an employment law partner, told ITV News that an employer has two months to reach an outcome "unless a longer period is agreed".

Flexible working requests can be refused if an employer has a good business reason for doing so. There are eight possible reasons as to why this could be the case, including:

  • 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 you propose to work

  • Planned structural changes

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What if I'm in disagreement with my employer?

Ms Baxter advised that in any potential dispute, the more "conversation and discussion" that an employee can have with an employer the better.

She added: "There is a massive difference in the sort of likelihood of succeeding in a flexible working request which just says 'this is what I want to do' as compared to one that says 'this is what I want to do, this is how I think it might affect the business, but this is how I think we can address that'.

"A request which shows that the employee thought about it from the company's perspective from the off, it's much harder to say no to those sorts of requests."

What does a 'reasonable manner' mean?

Ms Baxter said a reasonable manner could be reduced to an employer dealing with a request in "good faith, being honest about the reasons [and] not giving a misleading response as to why something has or hasn't been agreed, and progressing it without an unreasonable delay".

Can you appeal a decision?

Ms Baxter said it is possible to bring a complaint to an employment tribunal when contending that your "flexible working request hasn't been properly considered, the employer hasn't followed the process or has relied on an unfair reason to reject my request".

Employees can take an employer to a tribunal hearing if the latter does not handle a request in a reasonable manner.

Anyone looking to bring forward a tribunal claim should be aware that you will need to contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in advance.

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