Leon owns a small technical support company with members of staff who all work full-time, 9 to 5, in the office. Each team member has several accounts to manager as a ‘named account manager’.
One of his employees, Alisha is on maternity leave. She has written to Leon asking to reduce her hours on her return so that she will be able to spend time with her son during the week and reduce the cost of childcare. In the letter she states that she wishes to work 3 long days per week from 8 – 6 and believes she can remain a dedicated account manager for her existing clients during these hours and days.
Leon is not sure what to do. The business is growing and he cannot afford to lose the hours/days that she is proposing to drop. In addition, his clients work 9 – 5.30 and have no need for support outside those hours. Alisha has a great relationship with her clients and he is worried he will lose these clients if she is not available 5 days a week.
He calls us. We advise that employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer have the right to request to work flexibly if they are caring for children (and in some cases adults). We explain this is a right to make a request only; Leon does not have to grant the request providing he considers it and has a business reason to refuse (see below).
To comply with the Regulations, Leon should first check what Alisha has written to see if it complies with the employee’s duties as set out in the Regulations. The onus is on her to state in her letter what impact she believes her reduction of hours will have on the business and to propose any arrangements which could offset any detriment. If she has not done so, Leon could explain this requirement to her and ask her to resubmit her request with this information.
Once Alisha has submitted her request in the required form, Leon needs to give it due consideration. He needs to arrange to meet with Alisha (and a companion if she chooses to bring one) within 28 days to discuss her request. It may be that Leon can negotiate a different variation with Alisha at the meeting if her proposal is going to prove problematic.
We advise Leon that if he is not able to agree to Alisha’s request he needs to ensure that her reason for refusal falls into one or more of the following business reasons:
- Burden of additional costs
- Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
- Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
- Inability to recruit additional staff
- Detrimental impact on quality
- Detrimental impact on performance
- Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
- Planned structural changes
If Leon does refuse the request he needs to give his reasons in writing and explain that Alisha has the right to appeal this decision. We explain that we can draft any letters.
At the meeting Leon talks to Alisha about the problem of her clients needing access to a dedicated account manager 5 days a week. He says that working 3 long days may not feasible as her clients’ only work 9 – 5.30. In addition there would be additional costs to his business if the office had to open earlier and stay open later.
He proposes that Alisha work 3 normal days and 2 half days on a trial basis and the other account managers be asked to take messages and deal with urgent enquiries as they do when account managers are sick or on holiday. He explains that if during the trial he finds that the other staff cannot absorb the work of messages and urgent work he may have to refuse her request at the end of the trial period.
Alisha agrees to this arrangement will be suitable and agrees to the trial period. We draft a letter noting that if the trial period is successful the change in her working pattern will be a permanent change to her terms and conditions of employment. She will have no right to revert back to her previous working pattern and she will also be unable to make another request for flexible working under the statutory procedure for 12 months from the date on which her application was made.
If Alisha had refused his suggested alternative he could have rejected her request by stating:
- There would be a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
- It would not be possible to distribute work among the other staff;
- He would need to recruit another member of staff to cover 2 days and keep the office open longer resulting in an additional cost burden.
The letter would also offer her the right of appeal.
By explaining the procedure to him we enabled Leon to negotiate the retention of a key member of staff while reassuring him that he has the right to refuse the request if Alisha did not agree to his suggestion or the trial period does not work.