Work-life balance | Eight reasons for refusing a flexible working request

Eight reasons for refusing a flexible working request

By Carl Hardcastle, Employment Law Advisor at Moorepay

Striking the right work/life balance is a very important aspect of modern life. Employees today are looking for more flexibility in the way they work to enable them to juggle competing life demands.

With people settling into the new year and reviewing their life goals, you may see some requests coming your way. However, flexible working doesn’t necessarily suit every business. In some circumstances, it may not be possible to agree to a request. So what do you do in that circumstance?

Can I refuse a flexible working request?

Employers have a legal obligation to deal with requests in a reasonable manner. As part of this, an employer can refuse a flexible working request if there is a good business reason for doing so.

ACAS published a statutory code of practice on handling requests to work flexibly. The legislation permits an employer to refuse a flexible working request on eight business grounds, which are as follows.

Eight reasons for refusing a flexible working request

1. The burden of additional costs

You can refuse a flexible working request if it will be a financial burden on your business. For example, if accepting a flexible working request meant that your business had to absorb additional costs of engaging with a recruitment agency or paying other employees to work overtime at a premium rate, you’re permitted to refuse the request.

2. An inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff

Do you employ staff with very specific skills? If one of these employees wanted to work flexibly how easy would it be for you to rearrange their work amongst existing staff? If the answer is “it isn’t” or “we tried and failed” then this is another legitimate reason for refusing a flexible working request.

3. An inability to recruit additional staff

Take the following scenario: an employee submits a flexible working request to leave an hour early every day. How would you go about recruiting someone to work just one hour per day? It would of course be impractical and consequently this is a justified reason to refuse a flexible working request.

4. A detrimental impact on quality

A head of department or a customer-facing manager wishes to work two days per week. Will customers suffer because that employee is absent for three days of the working week? If you fail to recruit for the remaining three days and the reduced working hours would have a detrimental impact on your customers, you can refuse the request.

5. A detrimental impact on performance

This one is straightforward. If it’s going to have a significant impact on an employee’s ability to carry out their role, the request should be rejected.

6. Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand

To explain this, here’s an from the hospitality sector. Most restaurants are busiest on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. If an employee submits a request to work on Mondays and Tuesdays only, this would prevent the business from meeting their customer demand during their busiest periods and a request can be refused on these grounds.

7. Insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work

Using the same example of an employee at a restaurant requesting to work on a Monday and Tuesday only: if there isn’t sufficient work to be carried out during the periods an employee is requesting to work, you can refuse the request.

8. Planned structural changes to the business

If you’re going through a restructure or a redundancy, these are legitimate reasons to refuse a flexible working request.

When employers can’t refuse a flexible working request

The following examples would not be reasonable grounds to refuse a flexible working request:

  • The management team don’t like employees working part-time or working from home.

  • It doesn’t fit into your culture.

  • For any reason related to the person’s protected characteristics, for example their age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy etc. as this could lead to a discrimination claim from the employee.

Find out more in our ultimate flexible working guide

In this free online guide, our experts cover everything from examples of flexible working arrangements to managing requests. Plus, you can download it to take away with you. Read the guide here.

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