Ask Us – Flexible Working

I have an employee who has been struggling to meet her working hours since her son started school in September. I’ve tried to be flexible and say she can work flexibly so long she gets her hours in. She used to be a great part of the team, but in the last few weeks it feels like she’s not been pulling her weight and her colleagues are starting to grumble about fairness and consistency. Can I insist she goes back to her normal working hours?

It sounds like you have a good relationship with this employee and the resolution could be as simple as you each letting each other know your needs and finding a way forward that suits you both. Any agreed changes and whether they are temporary or permanent should be documented and signed by both parties so that everyone is clear on the arrangements.

If you cannot find an informal resolution, yes, you can insist on her working to her current contractual arrangements. You will need to take into account any arrangements that have been worked in practice over a period of time that will over-ride what is written down contractually. For example if the contractual working hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm but over the last year or so the employee has finished at 3pm on a Friday, that 3pm finish could now be considered to be contractual. So any informal arrangements you’ve put in place do run the risk of having become contractual. Do seek some specific advice if you think that may be the case.

By insisting on her working her contractual hours, it may prompt her to make a formal flexible working request. Any employee with more than 26 weeks service is entitled to make such a request and you must consider it. You do not have to accept the request if there are real business reasons why it would not suit your business – but you must follow a set process in response to the formal request. See our blog post on what must be included in your response approach:

Normally a flexible working request results in a permanent change to contractual working arrangements, but you could agree a temporary solution if that suits both you and the employee.

I hope you can find a way for you to retain this employee (otherwise she could go to a competitor that can accommodate her needs) and restore good working relations all round. Please do get in touch if you need any more help.


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