Flexible working is becoming a much more common and popular choice for professionals across a whole range of sectors, covering both fully employed and freelance and contract workers across the UK.
But what exactly does this type of work arrangement entail, what are the benefits and how does it work? Before undertaking any form of flexible work, it is crucial that you understand the details and that it is not the same as part-time work.
Flexible working in short, is a way of working which suits an employee’s needs. This could be for example, having flexible start and finish times, or even working from home for contracted periods. In the UK, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working.
Importantly, this is not just applicable to parents and carers, contrary to popular belief. This is what is known as ‘making a statutory application.’ To be eligible to request for flexible working, employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks (around 6 months.)
For many worker though, going freelance and working on a contract basis is the work-style of choice. If the freelance route is selected by a worker though, they will likely need to sign up with an umbrella company.
Types of Flexible Working Arrangements
When it comes to flexible working, there are a variety of ways in which it can be carried out and defined in practice and principle. However, there are some basic principles which need to be adhered to such as the Working Time Directorate, 1998, which governs the number of hours that can be worked.
The most popular ways of undertaking flexible working are:
Job Sharing – Two people do one job and spilt the hours which is classed as ‘working flexibility.’
- Working from Home – It may be possible to do some or all of the work that you typically undertake in your usual place of work, from your home or a remote location, which is not a place of work. However, first and foremost, you should ensure that you are able to work efficiently from home or remotely, so your work is not impacted in any negative way. Popular choices of places to work from include he likes of cafés and libraries.
- Part Time Work – You will be classed as a flexible worker if you work less than ‘full-time hours.’ This is usually by working fewer days, or by working half days, such as afternoons or mornings as part of your arrangement with your employer.
- Compressed Hours – Compressed hours refer to people who work full-time hours, but over fewer days. For example, many people are contracted to work 40 hours per week, in the form of five days of eight hours’ work. However, it has become increasingly popular in recent times for people to work 10 hours four times per week, affording workers the potential of three days per week off, often taken as a three-day weekend.
- Flexitime – The employee chooses when to start and end work within agreed limits and fulfilling their contracted hours, but working certain core hours, for example 10am to 4pm each day of the working week. Aside from their core hours, the employee can then determine how to use their ‘spare’ hours. Flexitime is often utilised by Public Sector employees in the UK.
- Annualised Hours – Under these types of arrangements, the employee has to work a particular number of hours over the course of the year, but they do have some flexibility about when they conduct their work. For this, there are sometimes ‘core hours,’ which work similarly to the Flexitime arrangement, by which the employee regularly works for each week. They work the rest of their hours flexibly or when there is extra demand at work.
- Staggered Hours – This is when the employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers. This type of working arrangement can be used in industries and professions where there needs to be an ‘overlap,’ to ensure there is never no workers working at any given time. This is often the case where shift-work is required.
- Phased Retirement – A ‘default’ retirement age has over the years, been phased out and older workers can choose when they want to take the plunge and retire. This means they can reduce their hours and work part time. When it comes to terms of employment, this is a flexible arrangement; the worker may choose to ‘retire’ particular days or times of the week and work others. This is also known as ‘semi-retirement.’
Alternatives to Flexible Working
It has become increasingly prevalent in the UK in recent years for employers to utilise the services of workers via contract or freelance work, hence the rise in popularity of the Gig Economy in the UK.
This has developed the labour market and how people work, as freelancers and contractors have a very much increased degree of flexibility with regards to how, where and even when they wish to work.
So long as the worker is legal and not banned from working in any way and has everything set up correctly, companies and businesses are free, within reason to use freelancers and contract workers. However, as a contractor or freelancer, you should make sure that you sign up with an umbrella company, or set up a personal service [limited] company so that you do not fall foul to the UK’s IR35 Legislation.
How to Work Flexibly in the UK
Employees and workers can apply for flexible working if they have been working for an employer on a continuous basis for the past 26 weeks. The application is known as ‘making a statutory application.’
The basic steps for the application are:
- The employee writes to the employer
- They employer will consider the request as it has been made. They will make a decision within 3 months or longer if agreed with the employee.
- The employer will agree to request if applicable. If they do so, they must change the terms and condition in the employee’s current contract to fit this new arrangement.
- If the employer disagrees, they are obliged to write to the employee giving the business reasons for such a refusal. The employee may be able to complain to an employment tribunal.
After the Application for Flexible Working
Employers must consider flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable manner.’ They should aim to make a decision within 3 months of the request (or longer if this is agreed by the employee.) If the application is accepted, the employer should write to the employee and be sure to include:
- A statement of the agreed changes to the terms of work
- A start date for flexible working
They should also change the employee’s contract to include the new terms and conditions. This should be done at the earlier convenience, but should never take longer than 28 days after the request has been made. If the application has been rejected the employer must tell the employee that they have rejected the application.
Reasons for rejecting an application for flexible working may include:
- Extra costs that will damage the business
- The work cannot be reorganised among other staff
- People cannot be recruited to do the work
- Flexible working will affect quality and performance
- The business will not be able to meet any demands of the customers of the business
- There is a lack of work to do during the proposed working times.
- The business is planning changes to the workforce.
Withdrawing a Flexible Working Application
If you have applied for a flexible work arrangement, but you choose to subsequently withdraw, you are permitted do so. Employees should tell their employer in writing if they want to withdraw their application.
From here, the employer can treat an applicant as withdrawn if the applying employee misses at least 2 meetings to discuss the application or appeal without good reason. This could be for example, sickness. The employer must let the employee they are treating the request as withdrawn.