This week marks one-year since businesses across Northern Ireland started making the move to remote working, many for the first time. And as we look forward to the Executive’s Pathway to Recovery in the weeks and months ahead, businesses are beginning to consider their plans for making a return to the office and what that will look like.
However, not all employees will welcome a return to the office after spending the last 12 months working from home. Some employers might also find an increasing number of staff members requesting flexible working as we start to adjust to the new ‘normal’.

Employees have had to face their own challenges due to the pandemic and businesses have had to adapt and be more flexible to accommodate this. And whilst this time has given employers an insight into the challenges of remote and flexible working, it has also shone a light on the benefits such as increased productivity, better staff morale and improved diversity.

Last week, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, launched an appeal for flexible working to be normalised as part of the UK economy’s Covid-19 recovery. She believes all employees should have the option to part-time/flexi-time, working from home and job shares
Employees have the right to request flexible working and employers have a legal duty to give it serious consideration.

Under current UK law, employees can only request flexible working after 26 weeks of employment and can make one request per 12 months. Employed agency workers returning to work from a period of parental leave also have the right to request flexible working. It is important that all employers are aware that a flexible working request is open to all those who meet the eligibility requirements and it is not restricted to parents and carers.

When planning to implement a flexible working policy, businesses will need to consider a number of things including:
• what flexible working arrangements will suit the needs of the business?
• are there jobs that might be difficult to do under such an arrangement?
• if so, what is the nature of the obstacle and can it be overcome and
• how will applications be dealt with?

Before introducing a flexible working policy, consult your employees as this will give them a better understanding of how the arrangements may impact the business and will also make them feel included as part of the process.
An employee’s application should be made in writing setting out their desired work pattern and how they think you can accommodate it. The employer should acknowledge receipt of the request in writing. All statutory flexible working requests must be seriously considered with the aim of deciding whether the business can accommodate the requested work pattern.

Under the statutory procedure, you should hold a meeting with the employee to discuss their request. If you can’t accommodate the requested working pattern, you might be in a position to explore other mutually suitable alternatives.

If you decide that you cannot accommodate any kind of flexible working for an employee, you must write to them stating which of the listed business ground(s) apply as to why you cannot accept the request, provide an explanation of why the business reasons apply in the circumstances and set out the appeal procedure.

Flexible working is something employers should be considering as part of their post-pandemic business resumption plan and by communicating it to employees now, it will no doubt be mutually beneficial for both parties going forward.

Andrea McCann ( is a Partner at McKees (, specialising in employment law.

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