Flexible working rights extended: embracing agility or another headache for educational institutions?

From 30 June 2014, the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous employment, no matter what the reason for the request. The employee is still limited to making one statutory flexible working request in any 12 month period. This is likely to be a significant change for those educational institutions who have not already extended the right to request in this way.

What is flexible working?

A request for flexible working is a request by an employee to change their normal working arrangements. This may involve:

  • A change to the hours they work
  • A change to the times when they are required to work
  • To work from a different location (for example, from home).

Who already has this right?

Currently only employees who have caring responsibilities for children or adults (subject to certain conditions) have a statutory right to request flexible working. The employee must also have 26 weeks' continuous employment at the date of request. An employee can only make one statutory request in any 12 month period.

The updated “Right to Request” procedure

Many educational institutions will be familiar with the current statutory perocedure which applies to flexible working requests, which is considered by most employers to be overly prescriptive. The updated procedure will be much less prescriptive and employers will need to:

  • Deal with applications in a “reasonable manner”
  • Notify employees of a decision within 3 months of first receiving the request unless an extension has been agreed.

ACAS recommends devising a policy to deal with requests to work flexibly. Such a policy should include:

  • Holding a meeting with the employee as soon as possible following receipt of their request
  • Careful consideration of the request by the educational institution
  • Notifying the employee of the outcome of their request as soon as possible in writing
  • Offering the employee the right of appeal against the full or partial rejection of their request
  • Allowing the employee to be accompanied at any meeting to consider their request and any subsequent appeal.

ACAS has issued a draft statutory code and good practice guide to assist employers in dealing with flexible working. At the time of writing, neither of these documents are in final form.

Does a request to work flexibly have to be accepted?

The short answer is no, but the request does need to be considered carefully and any rejection must be on one of the 8 business grounds prescribed by legislation. Employees whose requests are rejected should be allowed to appeal.

It is important that the educational institution carefully considers the benefits of the requested changes in working conditions for the employee, and weighs these against any adverse business impact of implementing the changes.

Care must be given not to inadvertently discriminate against particular employees because of their protected characteristics. For example, a change to working arrangements may also amount to a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee.

Is extending flexible working a good idea?

The extension of the right to request flexible working may increase the number of requests made by employees. However, the removal of the statutory procedure simplifies the process for educational institutions. Embracing agile working in a way that supports your institution’s objectives can increase productivity, morale, engagement and employee retention. Given that the Ofsted Chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, recently commented that around two-fifths of teachers leave the profession within five years, any increase in morale and employee retention may be greatly received by the sector.


This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.