What does flexible working mean?
Flexible working means offering your employees alternative work patterns and arrangements including reduced hours, permission to work from home etc. There are many good reasons for providing flexible working arrangements. For example:
It promotes equality of opportunity in employment for many people; especially for women and people who have disabilities
There is evidence to show that most employers in Northern Ireland believe that employees should be able to achieve a satisfactory work/life balance, and that the provision of flexible working arrangements either has no negative impacts on their businesses or that it delivers positive benefits, such as increased employee motivation, commitment and productivity, less absenteeism and better employee relations.
Having flexible working practices often encourages staff retention and cuts down on recruitment costs.
Many employees enjoy legally enforceable employment rights which give them entitlements to flexible working arrangements. It would, therefore, be unwise to make snap decisions, especially refusals, about your employees’ requests for flexible working as you must follow legally enforceable procedures and/or provide reasoned, fair and justifiable decisions.
This does not mean that the needs and rights of employees will necessarily over-ride the needs of an employer’s business, or vice versa. But the nature of an employee’s legal rights will often require employers to weigh their business needs against those of their employee in order to reach an appropriate and proportionate balance between the two.
Getting started in 6 steps:
1. Develop an equal opportunities policy
This declares that you are committed to promoting equality of opportunity in employment for all persons.
2. Develop a flexible working policy and procedure
This which declares that you are committed to providing flexible working arrangements and fair and non-discriminatory treatment to those employees who use them, or wish to use them. The document should set out your procedure for considering employees’ requests for flexible working arrangements and for implementing the decisions that you make. The procedure should also meet minimum statutory requirements.
3. Inform employees about the policy and procedure
Include your flexible working policy and procedure in your employees’ handbook, or on the workplace intranet or noticeboards.
4. Provide training to your managers/decision-makers
Training should provide them with an understanding of your legal responsibilities and their own responsibilities under the relevant policies and procedures.
5. Review recruitment and selection procedures
This ensures that when a new job is being developed that the possibility of it being done under a flexible working arrangement is considered.
6. Monitor and review the operation of your flexible working policy and procedure
This should be done periodically, for example once every three years.
Reasonable adjustments for disabled employees
There are occasions where the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees is also in effect a duty to provide (reasonable) flexible working arrangements for the disabled employees who need them.
For example, you allow a disabled person to work flexible hours to enable them to have additional breaks to overcome fatigue arising from their disability. Further examples are available on page10-11 of our Flexible working - Guide for Employers (pdf) and pages 83-90 of our Disability Code of Practice for Employers (pdf)