Flexible Working

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How to refuse a flexible working request (and when you should)

How to refuse a flexible working request (and when you should)

It’s a different world we live in now. Flexible working, which was at one time a nice-to-have perk and even a luxury, is now becoming the expected standard.

Social change doesn’t come about all at once though. The shift towards remote and flexible work is happening, but these things take time.

A new flexible working law going into effect on April 2024 gives employees the right to request flexible working arrangements from their first day at work.

Many employees feel that even this new law doesn’t go far enough, going so far as to quit their jobs after being denied flexible work arrangements.

It’s now the law of the land that you accommodate flexible working requests as much as you can as an employer. However, there are legitimate business reasons why you may deny these requests, or else seek alternatives that work for both you and your employee.

One of my jobs here at Charlie is to make sure that everyone on our team is happy and engaged with their work, which includes implementing our flexible work policy. I’d like to draw from that experience and show you why and how you would reject a flexible working request.

Reasons to refuse a flexible working request

The benefits of having a remote-first or hybrid work culture are well-established. It leads to happier and more engaged employees and increased productivity.

Remote work is the future and it’s here to stay. It’s in your interest as an employer to be as accommodating as possible.

That said, the day-to-day reality of running a business is a tad more complex than that. There will be times when you genuinely can’t approve a flexible working request.

Per UK Employment Law, you may only reject a flexible working request if you have a valid business reason for doing so. It must be based on the facts of how your business is run rather than your personal opinion.

These reasons might include:

  • Operational Efficiency: Certain roles and operations require a physical presence or take place during specific hours, and granting the request would disrupt these workflows too much
  • Financial Constraints: Granting the request would cost your business too much money, whether it’s investing in new technology or hiring new staff
  • Impact on Team Dynamics: Granting one person’s flexible work request can have a ripple effect on the entire team and place more burden on your other employees.
  • Business Performance: A flexible work request may need to be denied if it would pose a risk to the quality of work or the employee’s ability to meet deadlines
  • Future Business Plans: There are times when the flexible work request may disrupt planned changes to your business  at that moment, like with restructuring or upcoming projects

Rejecting a flexible work request should never be about undermining your employee’s right to make their request, but about making sure the changes are sustainable and in the best interest of both your employee and the business.

How to Refuse a Flexible Working Request

Let’s say that you have a legitimate business reason to deny the flexible working request and have to turn the employee down.

As an employer, you must respond to flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. When the new flexible working law goes into effect in April 2024, you’ll have to decide within two months of the request.

Here’s how you can approach this in a time-sensitive and respectful manner that maintains trust and openness with your employees:

Formal Written Response

Start with a formal written statement of your decision to refuse the request. Include the date of the decision for transparency and legal compliance.

Clearly State the Business Reasons:

Explain the business decision behind the refusal and relate them to any of the valid reasons outlined in the flexible working law. Make sure they are factual, objective, and rooted in the success of your business.

Elaborate on why the flexible working arrangement would impact the operations of your business, and give examples or hypothetical scenarios to illustrate the challenges.

Suggest Alternatives

Instead of rejecting the request outright, you can consider other options and meet them halfway. Explore other arrangements that are more feasible for both the employee and the business.

For example, if you can’t make the change immediately you can offer to make it later in the year. If they can’t work part-time every week, you could do a nine-day fortnight model. If you can’t let them work from home every day, you can allow them to work several days.

Present other options to the employee making the request and go from there.

Invite to Discuss Further

Give your employee making the request the chance to discuss the matter further. Having an open-door policy sets a foundation of trust and transparency that can help dissolve any frustration or disappointment.

Inform About the Right to Appeal

The discussion doesn’t stop there. Your employee has the right to appeal your decision and escalate the matter to an employment tribunal. You want to avoid that if you can, but it’s fair (and the law) to give them that option.

Documentation and Record-Keeping

Keep detailed records of any flexible working requests you get and the decisions you make on them. You can refer to this documentation if the employee disputes your decision and decides to appeal.

The Charlie platform is the perfect place for document storage so you can have access to them at any time. You or your employees can refer to the original request should they ever need to.

Rejecting a flexible working request is a business decision that affects both the employee and your business. Handling each request with empathy and a rational approach will help build a supportive and forward-thinking workplace culture.

When you can't grant a request, find a compromise for flexible working

Handling flexible working requests is the right thing to do and it’s good for business, and very soon it’s going to become the law. Not all businesses and industries are equally suited to remote work though, and the new law accounts for that.

If you need assistance in making a fair and balanced process for reviewing flexible working requests, get in touch with an HR advisor at Charlie who can help you manage these requests with an open mind and find mutually beneficial solutions.

Click here to talk to an hr advisor

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