Is it ok to say no to the growing trend for flexible working?
During the pandemic having to balance the need to remain operationally effective and financially viable with the requirement that people should work from home meant the majority of employers had to adapt quickly to a different way of working. The outcome was that workers were either furloughed, worked remotely or had a more flexible working arrangement to manage health risks.
In anticipation of the change to the work from home guidance, employers have more recently been planning what the future workplace will look like for their organisations. While some organisations have been clear about their position, for many others there is still a lot of uncertainty and confusion about what to do when it comes to this issue. This is made all the more difficult given the amount of press coverage flexible working has commanded over recent months suggesting it should be the norm.
The TUC advocates flexible working for all!
If the Trades Union Congress (“TUC”) has it's way flexible working should be the norm. Earlier this week it tweeted in response to the change to the work from home guidance that no one should “miss out” on flexible working.
While the remainder of the TUC’s tweet had some merit by acknowledging that the same approach to flexible working will not work for all employers and promoting the need to consult with staff about continuing flexible working patterns, creating an expectation that everyone should have the right to work flexibly is unrealistic. It is also a very simplistic view.
Employers do have a choice…
For employers who are still trying to work out what is best for their organisation such comments like the one made by the TUC are unhelpful because they create a mistaken belief that there are automatic rights when it comes to the way that employees would like to work.
The TUC appears to have forgotten that the current legal framework provides that in most cases there is no automatic right to flexible working. Although there is a process to follow, employers can refuse flexible working on one or more of the legally permitted eight business grounds which take into account the needs of the organisation, its customers and other colleagues.
It is ok to say no…
Despite the emphasis being on the need to embrace flexible working, there is nothing wrong with an organisation once it has weighed up the pros and cons in deciding that flexible working for all its workforce is not the right operating model, and instead leaving individual cases to be dealt with when they arise. Interestingly, even in the future, if the government makes flexible working a right from the first day of employment, which has been proposed, employers will still be able to exercise commercial judgment and refuse to offer a role on a flexible basis where there is good reason to do so.
Employers must however know how to manage flexible working requests…
Organisations who choose not to go down the flexible working route for all will still need to be prepared to manage expectations and any formal flexible working requests under the current legal framework.
Still not sure what to do?
If you are unsure if flexible working should be the new norm for your organisation or are concerned about managing a formal request, find out what you CAN do by contacting FG Solicitors on 0808 172 93 22 for a no obligation discussion.
FG Solicitors employment law specialists offer a proactive and practical approach, providing employers with confidence when it comes to managing their day-to-day employment law and HR issues.
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This update is for general guidance only and advice should be taken in relation to a particular set of circumstances.