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Handling flexible working requests
Learn how to confidently respond to any flexible working requests you receive. Find out about the application process, download our request form to give to your staff, and see what are reasonable grounds for refusing a request.
This article is based on guidance on flexible working from:
Right to request flexible working
All employees have the right to request flexible working, as long as they've worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks.
You must deal with requests in a 'reasonable manner'. You should only refuse a request if you have a good business reason for doing so (more on this below).
Decisions on whether to approve requests will typically be made by the headteacher, with the governing board only getting involved for requests made by the head or during any appeals process.
Types of flexible working
Flexible working can involve:
- Job sharing
- Working from home
- Working part-time
- Compressed hours
- Annualised hours
- Staggered hours
- Phased retirement
To see how these could work in your school, read our case study on how a secondary school offered flexible working via flexi days, staggered start times and part-time working.
- The employee writes to you
- You have 3 months to consider the request and respond to the employee (you can take longer if you agree this with them)
- If you accept the request, you need to change the terms and conditions of the employee's contract and write to them with a statement of the agreed changes and a start date
- If you deny the request, you need to write to the employee explaining the business reasons for the refusal
The 3-month response period must include time to complete any appeals, so it's best to respond promptly.
An employee can only make one application in any 12-month period.
GOV.UK guidance sets out what must be included in the employee's application.
Download our application form to share with staff who wish to make a request:
The form covers all the points the employee must include in their application. We made it with the help of Forbes Solicitors.
Meeting the employee
When you receive a request, it's a good idea to arrange a meeting to discuss it as soon as possible.
This gives you an opportunity to discuss what changes are being requested, how they might benefit the school and the employee, and how they might be accommodated.
It's also good practice to let the employee be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative.
Withdrawing a request
An employee can tell you in writing if they want to withdraw their application.
You can also treat an application as withdrawn if the employee misses 2 meetings to discuss an application or appeal without a good reason (such as sickness). You must tell the employee you're treating the request as withdrawn.
Grounds for refusing a request
You can refuse a request if you have a good business reason. The business reasons set out in legislation are:
- It would incur extra costs that would damage your school
- The work couldn't be re-organised among other staff
- You wouldn't be able to recruit additional staff
- Flexible working would affect quality and/or performance
- You wouldn't be able to meet customer demand
- There'd be a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
- You're planning changes to the workforce
In a school context, you may be able to reasonably reject a request if it would have a negative impact on pupil outcomes. Consider:
- How will the arrangement affect the curriculum and the opportunities presented to pupils?
- Can the weekly timetable be adapted to accommodate the request?
- What's the current line management structure and how will the arrangement affect this?
- What impact would the arrangement have on any newly qualified teachers in the school?
Always seek HR advice if you're considering a refusal.
Appeals against a decision
Employees don't have a statutory right to appeal against a decision. However, offering an appeals process will help to demonstrate that you're handling requests in a 'reasonable manner'.
You can use your grievance procedure to manage any appeals.
Going to an employment tribunal
An employee can't complain to an employment tribunal just because their request was rejected, but they can complain if you:
- Failed to handle the request in a reasonable manner
- Incorrectly treated their application as withdrawn
- Dismissed or mistreated them as a result of them having made a flexible working request
- Refused an application based on incorrect facts
An employee should complain to the tribunal within 3 months of:
- Hearing your decision
- Hearing their request was treated as withdrawn; or
- The date you should've responded to their request, if you failed to reply by then
Jeremy Bird has extensive experience of primary headship. He's also worked with local authorities and published guidance for new and aspiring headteachers and senior leaders.
Helen Cooper is an HR consultant with HC Associates. She has experience of working with local authorities on staff appraisal and management restructuring projects.
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