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25 September 2020

Flexible working under lockdown

3 mins

In July the government introduced the flexible furlough scheme, allowing furloughed employees to work part-time with the government covering 80% of their salary (up to a cap) for furloughed time. The primary reason for the change was economic, encouraging employers to return furloughed staff to the workplace as business picked up while also reducing the furlough bill for the government. The scheme will also likely have had social and other benefits, such as avoiding employees becoming de-skilled.

Recent figures show that the scheme was used by nearly a million people. In addition, or sometimes as an alternative, employers have taken up other measures to cope such as asking staff to agree to reduced hours. Further, with guidance initially introduced on 23rd March, workers were required to work from home where possible and to only travel for work where this was not possible. Despite these difficult times, many have experienced the benefit of working from home and flexible working in recent months. This changed on 1st August when the government changed its message to encourage people back into the workplace if they believed it was safe.

With the recent government announcement of new measures to try and curb an increase in cases, the message from the government has returned to ‘work from home if you can’. With the new measures possibly lasting six months, the use of flexible working may start to engrain itself in people’s expectations of employment.

Flexible working covers everything from part-time work to job sharing, flexible start and end times, to working compressed hours over fewer days. It may also include working from home or another location that isn’t your usual place of work, or working where, when and how the worker chooses (sometimes called ‘agile working’).

Employees have the right to request flexible working if they have been in continuous employment for at least 26 weeks. This can be done by making a ‘statutory request’. This need be no more than a letter to your employer requesting to move to flexible working and stating how you think it will affect the business. It must state this is a statutory request, be dated, say how and when you want to work flexibly, and if you’ve previously made an application. The government has produced a template form that is available for employees to use.

You only have the right to request flexible working, not the right to flexible working itself. However, if a request is refused you may want to consider whether there is any underlying reason for the refusal such as discrimination. Once a statutory request is made, you are not entitled to make another for 12 months (you can of course make a ‘non-statutory’ request but this is not covered by law).

Flexible working patterns that support individuals’ needs can be important for good mental health, those with caring obligations, and to provide a better work/life balance for everyone. This has become clearer in recent times and the coronavirus pandemic appears to have finally pushed wider adoption of these practices.

We regularly advise clients on issues of flexible working and you can contact us here if you require assistance.

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