Law guide: Employment

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What is flexible working?

What is flexible working?

Contents

Types of flexible working

Flexible working involves rearranging working time and/or locations. It can include the following:

  • Part-time working: Working less than standard or full-time hours.
  • Flexi-time: Employees have the freedom to work in any way they choose outside a core set of hours determined by you.
  • Staggered hours: Employees have different start, finish and break times, allowing a business to open for longer.
  • Compressed working hours: Covering the total number of hours in fewer working days.
  • Job sharing: One full-time job is split between two employees who agree the hours between them.
  • Shift swapping: Employees arrange shifts amongst themselves, on condition that all required shifts are covered.
  • Self-rostering: Employees choose the shifts they'd prefer, leaving you to compile shift patterns matching their individual preferences whilst covering all required shifts.
  • Time off in lieu: Time off taken to compensate for extra hours worked.
  • Term-time working: Receiving paid/unpaid leave during school holidays.
  • Annual hours: Contracted hours are calculated over a year. Though the majority of shifts are allocated, the remaining hours are kept in reserve so that employees can be called in at short notice, as required.
  • Voluntary reduced work time: Employees agree to reduce their hours for a fixed time with a corresponding reduction in salary, returning to full-time work when this period ends.
  • Zero-hours contracts: Employees working only the hours they are needed for.
  • Home working/teleworking: Spending all or part of the working week working from home or somewhere else away from your business premises.
  • Sabbatical/career break: Taking an extended period of time off, which is either paid or unpaid.

Flexible arrangements should comply with the law on maximum working time.

Impact of flexible working arrangements

Introducing a flexible working policy can be mutually beneficial to your business and your employees.

Business benefits of flexible working

Flexible working arrangements can bring the following improvements to your business:

  • Greater cost-effectiveness and efficiency, such as savings on overheads when employees work from home or less downtime for machinery when 24-hour shifts are worked.
  • The ability to attract a higher level of skills as the business is able to attract and retain a skilled and more diverse workforce.
  • More job satisfaction and better staff morale.
  • Lower staff turnover (thereby saving on recruitment costs), as staff who might otherwise have left, are offered hours they can manage.
  • Reduction in staff sickness levels.
  • Increased customer satisfaction and loyalty as a result of the above.
  • Improved competitiveness, such as being able to react to changing market conditions more effectively.

Benefits of flexible working for your employees

The main gain for your employees is the increased opportunity to fit other commitments and activities in with work and make better use of their free time.

This can be particularly helpful for people caring for children or other dependants, but others may find flexible working helpful too. They may feel more in control of their workloads, and manage a better work-life balance.

Benefits of flexible working for the customer

You could find you are able to offer longer opening times, more experienced staff and a better overall service.

The law on flexible working

Any employee can request flexible working arrangements. But employees who have worked for you continuously for over 26 weeks and haven't already made a similar application in the last 12 months, have a specific right to request it.

Any request must be taken seriously and treated reasonably.

The law is designed to help the employer and employee find an equally agreeable solution.

Key points to note:

  • Eligible employees can request any change to their current working arrangements, such as to their hours, times or location of work.
  • The change will be permanent - unless agreed otherwise.
  • The employee should explain in the application the change they are requesting, how it will affect your business and how it can be accommodated.
  • Only one application can be made in any 12-month period.
  • In Northern Ireland, the law requires a set procedure to be followed to deal with an application. See the nidirect website for more information.
  • In England, Wales and Scotland, the Acas Code of practice for handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly must be followed.

For more information on the statutory right on apply for flexible working, see Applications for flexible working.

Other relevant legislation

Bear in mind other relevant legal restrictions when considering an application for flexible working, e.g. avoiding discrimination. A claim under sex discrimination legislation is still possible and compensation is unlimited.

An employee will generally have important reasons for requesting flexible working, so a refusal may lead them to search for more flexible employment elsewhere.