When submitting a request for flexible working hours, it is important that you are able to focus fully on your arguments prior to, during and after the meeting with your employer. There will be some cases where your employer will appreciate the pros and cons of your request and authorise this without a formal meeting. However, the majority of requests will require a formal meeting to openly discuss the pros and cons and negotiate any required adjustments.
We will now take a look at the actual process of discussing your flexible working request and whether you can/should be accompanied into your meeting. Many of these relatively simple tips will make a difference, ensuring that your focus remains on your flexible working request at all times.
You may also need to consider various options after your initial meeting. On occasion, you may even need to withdraw your flexible working request, if it is not possible or perhaps there is a more appropriate type of request – non-statutory or company sponsored scheme.
- Organising a convenient time and place
- What should you be discussing in your meeting?
- Rearranging a meeting
- Withdrawing your flexible working application
- Action after discussions
- Prepare, prepare, prepare
There are a number of issues to take into consideration when it comes to discussing your flexible working request. These include:-
Before we look at other aspects of your meeting, it may be helpful to have a colleague, trade union representative or a companion by your side as support. If you asked the question, it is highly unlikely that your employer would refuse such representation. However, it is important to clarify this particular point well in advance of the meeting.
Even though we have an array of very useful and very easy communication methods, such as Skype, Zoom, etc., many people still prefer a good old-fashioned face-to-face chat. Obviously, when in the midst of the COVID pandemic it may not be possible to have this type of meeting – Skype and Zoom could be the only viable options. Or perhaps delay the meeting?
While you would probably need to be a little flexible with regards to the timing of your meeting, this should be convenient for all parties. Obviously, as your employer has a business to manage, they may struggle to accommodate times which are more convenient for you. This shouldn’t be a major problem but it is something to be aware of.
Events such as the COVID pandemic can significantly restrict the options you have to meet face-to-face. ACAS, the conciliation service, has traditionally advised telephone conversations as an alternative but nowadays the likes of Skype and Zoom are available. It is important that all parties are comfortable with any alternatives. For example, where an employee is not comfortable using new technology, forcing them to do so could be seen as a type of discrimination.
If you have followed the guidelines, and sent a detailed copy of your flexible working request prior to the meeting, you may not require additional discussions. In theory, all parties should be aware of the other’s position and the whole point of the meeting is to find a mutually acceptable compromise. In many cases, your employer will simply email their initial decision after a period of consideration. There may be further scope for discussion, or it may simply be a case of accepting your request and moving onto your new regime.
Alternatively, a follow-up meeting may be required – make sure you are prepared!
The most obvious answer to this is your request for flexible working hours. However, there is a lot more to consider when we look at the finer detail.
In the early stages of your meeting, the main formality is a review of your original flexible working request. You should have added as much detail as possible to avoid uncertainty and confusion. This is the time for you to bring up any additional comments or requests.
In order to accommodate a flexible working request, on balance the pros and cons should be more positive towards the business and your colleagues. There will be occasions where employers are extremely keen to retain skilled employees, but this always needs to be balanced against the overall picture.
Discussing the pros and cons of your original flexible working request may reveal issues which have perhaps not been considered as yet. It may prompt a significant adjustment to your original request or both parties might see the overall benefits, and proceed on the original basis. It really is good to talk!
One issue which is often overlooked is the impact changes might have on your work colleagues. We are not just talking about additional hours, or additional work but also the working relationship between various employees. It may be that your employer will request further feedback from your colleagues before committing to your proposed changes. If this does happen, it is nothing to be concerned about as it makes perfect sense.
If you are able to gather the support of your colleagues, prior to your meeting, or maybe obtain written input confirming the potential benefits of your request, this can be very helpful. On occasion, some work colleagues may be willing to accompany you to the meeting, to back up your case and answer any questions your employer may have.
In many ways, as an employee you have the relatively simple task of putting forward your request for flexible working. Your employer will need to consider many different factors such as the potential short, medium and long-term impact on the business. The law is very clear on flexible working, your employer must give a statutory flexible working request due consideration. However, if it is simply not workable they are not obliged to agree to changes.
Unfortunately, from time to time these meetings can get fairly “heated” and some employers might use them as a means of provoking a reaction. While most employers are sensible, taking a business-like approach to meetings, this is not always the case. If you find the meeting it is getting heated it may be time to call for a short break so that tempers can calm. Remember, it is in your best interest to maintain a good solid working relationship with your employer. Nobody benefits from friction and fallout!
It can be extremely helpful to have support and guidance if you’re able to take somebody in with you to the meeting. Whether deliberate or not; you may feel under pressure to agree to changes which are not in your best interests. It may be that there are numerous members of the management in attendance and you are on your own, feeling isolated.
If you are presented with alternative solutions with which you do not agree, make sure you do not sign any documentation. Indeed, when you start to feel the pressure building, it may be time to ask for a break or even end the meeting and consider the details over the next few days. The premise of a request for flexible working hours is simple, all parties must agree without undue pressure.
The majority of flexible working requests tend to be discussed and agreed in a relatively short space of time – indeed some may be agreed at the meeting. It is important for all parties that these discussions/negotiations do not drag on (remember there may even be an appeals process to consider). Therefore, before the meeting closes it would be sensible to agree a timeline with your employer about their final decision.
When pushing forward your original flexible working request, or receiving feedback from your employer, it is important to maintain a paper trail. Emails and even letters are perfect for this!
Depending upon the duration of your meeting, and the intensity, it can sometimes be difficult to recall the exact details after the event. As a consequence, it may be an idea to propose the taking of minutes or a recording of the meeting, prior to the day. If you take a step back and look at the situation from a distance; if everything was considered in a business-like manner, no party would have any problem creating records for reference purposes.
In the event that your employer was to discriminate against you or fail to correctly consider your employee rights, you could use these minutes as evidence further down the line. Ensure that you are protected as much as possible at all times!
There will be occasions where either an employee or an employer is unable to attend a prearranged meeting. It is important to inform the other party as soon as possible, so they can make alternative arrangements, and set a new date for the meeting. Cancellation of the meeting is treated very differently with a statutory request as opposed to a non-statutory/company sponsored scheme request.
In the event that your employer believes your reason for not attending the original meeting was unreasonable, they can treat your application as withdrawn. This is unlikely, but if you failed to attend for a relatively minor reason, this could be the unwelcome outcome. With a statutory request this would mean you wouldn’t be able to reapply for 12 months. It is important to ensure that lines of communication remain open and clear at all times. Make sure that working relationship is protected!
There are numerous reasons why you may decide to withdraw your flexible working application, such as:-
- A change in your personal circumstances
- Switching from a statutory to a non-statutory/company sponsored scheme request, or vice versa
- Deciding your proposal was not workable or fair to others
If you do decide to withdraw your flexible working application, it is important that you inform your employer as soon as possible in writing/email. This ensures that due process is respected and also completes the virtual/real paper trail.
Whether or not you agree a formal timeline of events after discussions, there are still various statutory obligations placed upon your employer. When it comes to statutory applications, they are formally obliged to:-
- Give careful consideration to your request
- Ensure you are not discriminated against
- Offer due time for an appeal
When it comes to the final decision, there are three very simple options:-
- Accept your original request with no changes
- Confirm a compromise to your original request, agreed by all parties
- Reject your request, setting out reasons for doing so
As you are expected to present your request in writing, your employer is obliged to offer you the same courtesy. If your employer was to add additional comments in a verbal manner, it would be sensible to ask them to put this in writing as well. This should eliminate the potential for misunderstandings and avoid confusion.
The process of discussing your flexible working request with your employer can be challenging, can be intimidating and not easy for many people. As your main focus is to present your request in the best light, it is important to be aware of issues such as timing, representation, lawful rights, etc. The greater focus you can place upon fighting your corner for your flexible working request, the more chance of a successful conclusion. Prepare, prepare, prepare!