Flexible Working – a new juggling act for employers……..

As you may know, any employee can now request flexible working. Nick Clegg believes that it is “about time” that working practices were brought “bang up to date with the needs and choices of our modern families”.

So let’s say you have received a request from Jonny, who has been with the company for three years; he is a sporty chap and is keen to increase his work in the local community by coaching the local cricket team. He has no children. He tells you he is also writing a book on his sporting career. Sounds possible, but the problem is Joanna has also put in a request. She works in the same department as Jonny, has been with the company just shy of one year and has a young son who is starting school. She would like to be around to pick him up three afternoons a week. This directly clashes with Jonny’s request who also wants to work remotely on two of the same afternoons to coach the local team. How do you deal with this request?

If you turn Joanna down without good reason, you risk her bringing an indirect sex discrimination claim even though all the information you have read around the new law leads you to believe its aim is to challenge our current working practices and not just reinforce the old assumption that flexible working is only for parents and carers. You also know that you are not supposed to make value judgements on the most deserving request.

You read the ACAS guidance which deals with handling competing claims and decide to do the following:-

1. Examine what impact the requests will have on the business. You decide if they were both working remotely on both those afternoons, it would adversely affect the company’s ability to deliver the service. The business can’t cope with both requests in their entirety.
2. Consider what impact refusal of the request will have on both parties.
3. You discuss with them both what impact any refusal will have on them and whether either of them can adjust their days.
4. You find that Jonny can adjust one of his days, but Wednesday is really the day that the local colts are free due to their school sports programme. It’s also the day Joanna really wants to pick up her son because it’s Welcome Wednesday in the classroom – where parents go and see their children’s work.
5. You have successfully accommodated the other days, but Wednesday is becoming a sticking point.  You discuss with them both if they will agree to drawing lots on this point. That way you have not made a value judgement on their request and they both have an equal chance of getting their request granted. They hesitantly agree. Jonny wins.

You are aware that if they had not agreed to draw lots, you could have asked Julie who also works flexibly whether she could swap her days for a Wednesday in order to accommodate Joanna. As it is, Joanna is satisfied with the outcome which she believes was fair and says she will try again next year!

You decide this was a sticky case and really you want to be better prepared for future requests and remote working practices. You write yourself an action list:

1. Review and update your flexible working policy – include how to deal with competing requests;

2. Review appraisal and methods of supervision; establish new remote working protocols;

3. Train managers on new remote working practices if required;

4. Draft a new remote working /home working policy;

5. Keep a paper record of all decisions made.


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