I don't mean can you still do the splits. Rather, how flexible are you willing to be as an employer for your employees? Flexibility is often cited as an essential requirement in job descriptions and role profiles. Employees are often expected to be flexible about what they do, how they do it, where they do it and when they do it. Employers require it of their employees, but how many view flexibility as a key component of the package that the employer brings to the table?
More so than ever since the pandemic started, employees are re-evaluating their work-life balance and are coming to the realisation that there's more to life than work. People have enjoyed spending more time with family and friends, enjoying hobbies and finding time for exercise and look after their wellbeing. Over the next few months and years, we predict that employers will see an increase in the number of flexible working requests being made by employees who want to change their hours of work or pattern of working hours. Is your flexible working policy up to date? Do your managers know how to fairly and consistently consider and respond to flexible working requests?
The recent case of Thompson v Scancrown Ltd, trading as Manors, demonstrates how important it is for employers to treat flexible working requests seriously and come up with defensible justifications as to why a request cannot be approved. Mrs Thompson requested to reduce her working week and hours when she returned to work following maternity leave. Her request was denied and amongst other things, she claimed and was successful with an indirect sex discrimination claim.
The Tribunal sided with Mrs Thompson and found that it still is the case that a requirement to work full time, 9 am - 6 pm, Monday to Friday will put women with children at a substantial disadvantage compared to men with children. Her ex-employer attempted to justify the requirement by focusing on the business need to maintain successful relations with customers. However, this argument was unsuccessful because the Tribunal found that there were other alternatives that could and should have been explored to achieve this business need.
This case serves as a good reminder of the need to properly consider all flexible working requests that are made and to really ask yourselves whether something could work, rather than simply looking for reasons why you should stick with the status quo. Particularly when it is largely accepted that many status quos in the workplace put women at a disadvantage compared to men.
In addition to hours of work, the location where someone works has also become a hot topic for employees over the last 18 months. Have you considered how you will deal with requests from employees to change their place of work to their home? Do you have a Hybrid Working Policy? If you'd like to find out more, my colleague Katherine Sinclair was interviewed by Inside Housing to discuss what should be considered with a Hybrid Working Policy. Read the interview here for her pearls of wisdom.
If you would value a discussion about flexibility in your workplace, please do not hesitate to get in touch. This is a topic we will also be focusing on in our free virtual Employment Law Update session in October. To make sure to get an invite to this event, sign up to our Newsroom.
Alice Thompson wanted to work shorter hours to pick her daughter up from nursery, but ended up resigning.