The timescales for returning to work, post the Covid-19 outbreak are still uncertain and unpredictable; no-one knows what the future holds or what the working landscape will look like. The ability of businesses to be able to return to their normal operations will depend on a huge number of factors, with many businesses having to totally re-think the way they work. What is certain is that there will need to be a continuing level of flexibility and adjustment from all of us.
Things you need to know
During the Coronavirus crisis, many businesses have been forced to turn to more flexible working practices, with more people working from home, working different hours and balancing childcare and care of the elderly in the working day.
On the whole, people have adapted well to the changes and are enjoying the luxury of no work-related travel or the commute to work, a more relaxed environment and the better work- life balance they’ve been able to achieve.
Businesses will undoubtedly be under pressure from their staff to reconsider more permanent flexibility, including a continuation of working from home, reduced, or alternative hours of work.
Rights and Legislation
Most employees now have the right to request flexible working and it is the responsibility of the employer to seriously consider the practicalities of doing so. Full details of the reasons for refusal are detailed in the flexible working blog below.
The Coronavirus outbreak has set a precedent for flexible working to become the norm rather than the exception, hence it will be far more difficult for an employer to refuse a request. Here’s a brief overview of the process and thinking which employers must practice:-
- The employee should submit a written request and you must consider the request as soon as possible.
- If there is a workplace policy on flexible working, the employer should check the details before taking any action. If there is no policy, now may be a good time to put one in place.
Refusing a Request
- If the employer is unable to approve the request or needs more information or to discuss alternative options, then a meeting should be arranged with the employee (virtual is fine).
- The employee has the right to be accompanied in a meeting, so the employer will need to be flexible and find a work around to involve this person in the discussions.
- Any decision should always be confirmed in writing to the employee, stating in full the reasons for refusal.
- Where a request has been refused, the employee can appeal and again has the right to be accompanied at the meeting.
Agreeing to a Request
- The employer may agree to a trial period and should the arrangements not have worked, then the employee can be asked to revert to their previous arrangement.
- Where a request is authorised, this represents a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment and a new contract, or variation letter must be produced and signed by all parties.
- If the flexible working request involves working from home, then the employer should have a robust policy which establishes rules and boundaries.
The benefits for employers and employees are numerous, not least to improve staff wellbeing, enable greater work-life balance, increase productivity and loyalty from staff.
The custom and practice set during the Coronavirus outbreak has proved, in particular, that flexibility, on the whole, does work. Employers will need to think very carefully when considering requests in the future.