Flexible working and redundancy – two sides of the same coin

Mums working flexibly may feel more vulnerable to redundancy. However, in some cases, being prepared to work flexibly may save you your job. Find out how to avoid redundancy and why working flexibly could be to your advantage.

Requesting flexible working arrangements

The law gives the “right to request” flexible working to qualifying employees who are parents of children up to and including the age of 16, parents of disabled children up to 18, and carers of adult relatives. However, an employer can refuse on certain grounds, which are set out in various articles elsewhere on this website.

Will my employer agree to a flexible working arrangement, but blacklist me?

Those working flexibly may feel that the employer sees them as being less committed or “on the mummy track”. A new boss may inherit a flexible working arrangement and dislike it.

Many people opt for job-share arrangements. However, although such arrangements bring benefits for both employer and employee, they may be perceived to be more expensive for employers (and may actually be more expensive, for example, if two people work three days a week each, rather than one person working five). This may make such arrangements more vulnerable in economic times of woe.

However, although all these things can happen, redundancy criteria must be transparent and non-discriminatory. Any criteria that would be likely to affect flexible or part-time workers more than full-timers may be indirectly discriminatory on gender grounds and therefore potentially unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 as well as being an automatically unfair dismissal.

To put yourself in the best position possible, it’s stating the obvious to say “do a good job”. But you need to do more than that: you need to make sure other people know you are doing a good job. Make sure you keep evidence of your achievements and copy people into important e-mails (without being sucked into a “cc culture”).

Keep a diary of your work, your achievements and any important projects you have worked on. If anyone sends you an email saying that you have done a good job, make sure you file it somewhere safe. The more evidence you have, the more easily you can show that you are committed to your work and that the flexible working arrangement is working.

Could flexible working actually save my job?

While many women worry that they are vulnerable to redundancy, flexible working may actually save their jobs. Some employers have realised that flexible working can help them to retain good staff during the recession. It’s not all good news for employees, as it may mean reduced hours and pay.

You can refuse to change your working pattern, but then you may be at risk of redundancy. Thus, agreeing to work flexibly could help you to keep your job, and it may be preferable to earn 80% of your salary than 0% of salary. It also means that employers save on redundancy costs and the costs of recruiting and training new staff when the economic situation improves.

An example of this was in 2009, when it was reported  that City law firm Norton Rose was offering alternatives to redundancy. Staff were offered the option of working four-day weeks on 85% of pay or taking a sabbatical of up to 12 weeks on 30% of pay. By exploring these options with staff, the firm was able to retain more staff, along with their knowledge, skills and contacts.

As the economy improved, Norton Rose reinstated the five day week (although the author is not aware if anyone asked to keep their four day a week arrangements, and if so, whether it was permitted). It was held up in the legal press as a beacon of good practice when other law firms were making large numbers of people redundant, so such practices can lead to good publicity for employers.

KMPG carried out a similar process. Several of the UK-based car manufacturers have also used elements of flexible working (negotiated with the workforce) as a means of reducing the number of redundancies and thus retaining their skills base.

So, if you work for a company that is making redundancies and you feel flexible working is something they should consider you could suggest it to your employer. Reasonable measures must be taken to come up with alternatives to compulsorily making people redundant, so your employer must seriously consider such suggestions.

Author: Helen Hart was a practising lawyer for many years and spent the last four years working for a legal publishing company. She now works part-time in a public library as well as being a freelance writer and editor.

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