Research has revealed that introducing flexible working can actually help to reduce absence, but is it a good idea for your business?

We asked the legal experts Baines Wilson to give some advice to Cumbrian businesses thinking about introducing flexible working.

A recent survey from CIPD and Simplyhealth showed a link between employee absence and the lack of flexibility in the workplace, and suggested that frequent absence could be due to the conflicting demands from home and work. 

The suggestion is that organisations that offer family friendly working hours and leave for unavoidable situations were less likely to have higher absence.

Flexible working can take many forms including working remotely from home, part-time work, term time working, compressed hours, job sharing and career breaks. The best options for businesses will be determined by business needs, remembering that flexible working comes with both advantages and disadvantages.

Will flexible working help my business?


 Can increase productivity

 May boost staff morale

 Higher employee commitment

 Less absence

 Higher retention of employees


 Problems accommodating requests; especially smaller businesses

 Resentment from staff when requests are declined, but other staff have been permitted to work flexibly

 Reduced ability to deal with sickness/holidays

 Increased risk of employment claims if requests are declined

 Greater management challenges with people working remotely

 Blurring between home and work if employees are working from home or able to check receive emails and calls 24/7

How do I deal with a request flexible working?

Employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment are able to make a request for flexible working for any reason, provided that they have not made a request within the last 12 months. 

Upon receiving a request for flexible working, an employer has 3 months from receipt of the request to make a decision (including any appeal), unless a longer period is agreed with the employee. 

Any request should be handled in a “reasonable manner”, which will nearly always involve arranging a meeting with the employee. 

Can I refuse flexible working?

A request for flexible working may only be refused for one (or more) of 8 statutory reasons as follows:

1. The burden of additional costs

2. Detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand

3. Inability to reorganise work among existing staff

4. Inability to recruit additional staff

5. Detrimental impact on quality

6. Detrimental impact on performance

7. Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or

8. Planned structural changes

Whilst there is no ‘right’ for an employee to change their hours or style of work, special care should be taken when a business considers refusing any request where the employee could bring a discrimination claim, for example a woman’s request to change her hours in order to meet childcare commitments. Such refusals could amount to indirect sex discrimination if the refusal cannot be objectively justified.

Overall, flexible working can provide employees with a better work life balance but it has to fit the needs of the business. 

To guard against getting into hot water on receiving a flexible working request, employers should consider introducing a flexible working policy or updating any existing policy if it hasn’t been updated since June 2014, when the right to request flexible working was extended. 

Managers should also be given guidance on dealing with a request.

If you have any queries relating to any of the above or if you have any other employment related queries please do not hesitate to contact Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.