Flexible and home working

You have a legal duty to give consideration to any requests for flexible working, including home working. This guide details the legal requirements for dealing with such requests and the practical implications of accepting or refusing an application.

Guide

8 min read

1. Overview

Employees have the right to request flexible working, and you have a legal duty to give it serious consideration.

The spread of home working - using the internet or telephone - is opening up a new range of possibilities for the way businesses can work and structure themselves.

This guide explains the law surrounding flexible working requests, the eligibility criteria and how to respond to a flexible working application. It will also help you decide whether home working is a possibility for your business and sets out key issues and considerations when introducing and managing the practice.

2. Flexible working arrangements

Certain employees who are parents or carers have the statutory right to make a flexible working request. To be eligible a person must:

  • be an employee
  • have worked for you continuously for at least 26 weeks on the date they make their request
  • not have made another statutory request during the past 12 months

The employee can only make an application to care for either:

  • a child under 17
  • a disabled child who is under 18, and who is in receipt of disability living allowance
  • certain adults who require care

Types of flexible working requests

Eligible employees can make a request to:

  • change the hours they work
  • change the times when they are required to work
  • work from another location of the business or from home (whether for all or part of the week)

3. Requesting flexible working

An employee's application should set out their desired working pattern and how they think you can accommodate it. You should accept the information they give as true unless you have good reason to doubt it.

In order for a flexible working application to be valid, it must contain certain information. Employees can make an application using form FW(A).

However, you can accept an email or letter, or provide employees with your own application form.

If the employee doesn't use form FW(A), to be valid their application must:

  • be dated and in writing
  • state that it is being made under the statutory right to make a flexible working request
  • confirm that they have, or expect to have, caring responsibility for a child or adult in need or care
  • confirm their relationship with the child or adult in question
  • specify the flexible working pattern applied for
  • explain what effect the proposed change may have on your business and how you can deal with any such effect
  • state the date on which they want the change to start
  • state whether they have made any applications to you before and, if so, when

The employee should allow plenty of time between the date of the application and the date they expect the flexible working arrangement to start. This is to allow you time to look at their application and assess whether or not you can accommodate it.

Employees do not have to give you proof of their caring relationship. Therefore you should accept applications in good faith and make the decision on whether or not to grant a request solely on business grounds.

In addition, an employee does not have to show:

  • what level of care the child or adult in question requires
  • why they are required to provide that care

If you accept an employee's flexible working request, this may lead to a permanent change to their contractual terms and conditions unless you agree otherwise.

If you or the employee are concerned about this, you could either suggest that they work flexibly over a trial period or agree that the arrangement will be temporary.

4. Accepting or rejecting flexible working requests

You must notify an employee of your decision within 14 days of the meeting to discuss their flexible working request.

If you cannot agree to the working pattern asked for, you can still try to reach agreement with the employee on an alternative arrangement.

Accepting a request

If you accept an employee's flexible working request, you must write to them:

  • detailing their new working pattern
  • stating the date on which it will start
  • ensuring that this notice is dated
  • stating that the arrangement means a permanent change to the employee's terms and conditions of employment (unless agreed otherwise)

Rejecting a flexible working request

If you decide that you cannot accommodate any kind of flexible working for an employee, you must write to them:

  • stating which of the listed business ground(s) apply as to why you cannot accept the request
  • providing an explanation of why the business reasons apply in the circumstances
  • setting out the appeal procedure

The business grounds for rejecting a flexible working request

You can only reject a flexible working request on a limited number of set grounds:

  • planned structural changes
  • the burden of additional costs
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • the inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • the inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • lack of work during the periods the employee proposes to work

In your written refusal of a flexible working request, you must explain why the business ground applies in the circumstances.

Appealing against a flexible working request rejection

If an employee believes that you have not properly considered their request they may want to appeal.

The employee must make their appeal in writing within 14 days of receiving your written notice refusing their request. In the appeal notice, the employee must set out the grounds for making the appeal.

You must arrange the appeal meeting within 14 days of receiving the employee's appeal notice. This appeal should ideally be heard by a different manager.

You must inform the employee of the outcome of the appeal in writing within 14 days after the date of the meeting.

You can find out more about your obligations in relation to flexible working arrangements from ACAS.

5. Home working

A shift towards home working doesn't mean employees have to work only at home. Often splitting time between home and the workplace is the most productive solution and you may want the home worker to attend meetings to keep them fully involved and informed.

When weighing up whether to let an employee work from home, you should consider the nature of their job. Some types of work are particularly suited to home working. For example:

  • telesales and marketing
  • customer service
  • consultancy and professional services, such as accountancy or HR administration
  • writing, editing, research and translation
  • some types of administrative work

You also need to consider whether employees themselves are suited to working away from your base. They're likely to need skills in a number of key areas:

  • time management and self-discipline
  • motivation
  • self-sufficiency
  • communication
  • technology

Manage employees who work from home

Monitoring and assessing the performance of people who work at home is perhaps the most significant managerial challenge. It can be helpful to measure their effectiveness in terms of their output rather than the hours they work

For staff who work alone, a sense of isolation is one of the factors most likely to make home working fail. As a result, it's important to put formal systems in place to ensure people feel part of the team. For example:

  • frequent two-way feedback sessions about work and work-related issues
  • regular scheduled visits to the workplace
  • inclusion in social activities
  • clear procedures to follow and people to contact if things go wrong

If an employee's job is home-based from the start, it's a good idea to carry out their induction at your premises. Home workers are more likely to be focused and productive if they have a chance to establish a clear idea of the people and company they're working for.

Security

There are important security issues. For example, data security could be compromised if employees working from home use their work computer for personal purposes. It's best to provide staff with a computer and make it clear that it's for business use only.

Install anti-virus and firewall software on users' PCs and use passwords to control access to their computers and to your network. Make sure home workers have read and understood your IT policies and know their information security responsibilities.

Employees who deal with sensitive information should be particularly careful about:

  • keeping equipment at home - they should make sure that their premises are properly secured
  • transporting equipment from one place to another - items should never be left unattended in a public place
  • using public internet access - public computers can store information that has been entered
  • working in a public place such as a train - information on a laptop screen could be seen by others
  • destroying data that is no longer required - eg a cross-cut shredder should be used to dispose of sensitive papers

6. Responsibilities of home workers and your obligations to them

As an employer you have the same responsibilities for ensuring the health and safety of home workers as you would for staff based at your premises. Your duties are likely to include:

  • carrying out a health and safety risk assessment
  • purchasing compulsory employers' liability insurance if you don't already have it
  • ensuring equipment is fit for its purpose
  • testing, certifying and maintaining electrical equipment provided by the business
  • ensuring computers can be used comfortably and without disturbing glare, see our guide on how to ensure your employees are operating computers safely
  • making sure lighting levels are appropriate
  • avoiding trailing cables to reduce the risks of trips and falls
  • ensuring staff are suitably trained to work safely
  • keeping records of, and if necessary reporting, any serious accidents, illnesses or injuries experienced by home workers

Responsibilities of home workers

Employees who work from home have a number of key responsibilities. They should:

  • check whether there are any restrictions on home working within the terms of their lease, mortgage or tenancy agreement for the property
  • keep their insurance company informed about the new use of their home
  • check if planning permission will be required and apply for it if necessary, though this is unlikely to be the case for a home office
  • check if business rates rather than council tax are payable on the part of the property used for work
  • ensure their own health and safety and the safety of anyone visiting or living in their home who could be affected by their work
  • ensure that they keep sensitive information safe and secure, eg by destroying data securely when they have finished with it

Employees should also be aware that if they set aside a room to work in that has no domestic purpose, they may be liable for business rates on that part of the property or capital gains tax if the property is sold.

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