Dealing with flexible working requests from staff with caring responsibilities

Given the ageing population, employees increasingly need to balance their work and life to deal with caring responsibilities

An employee can make a flexible working request if they look after, or expect to be responsible for, an adult who is in need of care. Government guidance suggests that care-giving activities may include help with dressing, bathing, getting in and out of bed or supervising medicines.

What kind of change can be applied for?

The employee will need to make a written request for flexible working. In doing so they must set out their plan for flexible working, the impact they believe it will have on the business, and how they think the business can accommodate it. The employee can request to change the hours they work, the times they work and to work from a different location (for example by asking to work from home).

There is a detailed statutory procedure that a business must follow once it has received a flexible working request. Seek legal advice as soon as the business receives a request to ensure that all obligations to consider the request are complied with.

Rejecting or refusing the request

A business may have good reason for being unable to accommodate a flexible working request. If the organisation chooses to refuse a request it must identify one or more of the following grounds as the reason:

  • It would have a damaging impact on the quality of the business’ products or services.
  • There is insufficient work available during the times when the employee wants to work.
  • The business is planning structural changes to the organisation of the business.
  • The work cannot be re-organised among existing staff.
  • The business is unable to recruit the additional staff that the employee’s proposal would require.
  • There would be a detrimental impact on the business’ ability to meet customer demand.
  • The burden of additional costs that would be incurred.

The business should give a notice of refusal in writing, dated and stating which of the above grounds apply and why. It should also give details of the appeal procedure.

Practical guidance for businesses when handling a request

  • When a request to work flexibly is received the first priority is to ensure that all time limits are met. Meetings and deadlines for responses should be diarised and, where appropriate, the HR department should be consulted.
  • If a deadline cannot be met make sure the employee is kept informed. It may be possible to reschedule a meeting and avoid any liability for a breach of procedure.
  • Managers should be trained on operating the procedure and the business.

Above all, businesses should treat flexible working as a positive change if handled correctly as this will ultimately lead to a happier workforce.

Jane Crosby is a partner in the dispute resolution team at Hart Brown