The government is actively encouraging employers to allow flexible working during the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, could you take advantage of this? What could you do to let your employer extend your flexible working arrangements beyond the Games.
Getting around London during the Games
There are regular reports in the media as to how London’s transport system is going to crash during the Olympic Games and how people will not be able to get to work. Many suggestions have been made to improve matters: staggering hours/shifts, home working, and less usefully for our purposes, spending some time in the pub after work and delaying your journey home.
Right to request flexible working, just during the Games?
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:
- planned structural changes;
- the burden of additional costs;
- a detrimental impact on quality;
- the inability to recruit additional staff;
- a detrimental impact on performance;
- the inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
- a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; and/or
- lack of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
Employers have explicitly expressed concern that allowing staff to work flexibly during the Olympic Games will increase employees’ expectation of such working patterns being granted on a permanent basis in the future. Those employers are being advised to make clear to their staff that changes being introduced during the exceptional circumstances of the Olympic Games and that existing flexible working policies in line with the statutory framework will continue to apply after the Games.
The arguments you need to convince your employer to extend your flexible working hours beyond the Olympics
It might be short-sighted of an employer to take the line that flexible working is just during the Olympic Games, and all is not lost for you. If revised arrangements work for a few weeks, they may well work long-term and it’s worth an employee pointing this out. For example, if the employer fears a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, but output is maintained during the Games, you may have a stronger case to support your application for permanent flexible working.
Some jobs just do not lend themselves to flexible working, such as teaching or being a receptionist (although shift patterns may be flexible in some roles) but others do. An employer may be able to save money on office space if it has more people working at home or if people work different shift patterns to avoid the rush-hour. An employee ought to be able to show that they can do their job just as well from home, or between the hours of 7-3 or 11-7 rather than between 9-5. Avoiding travel can save time and increase productivity.
According to Stylist magazine, a survey by Regus found that 60% of businesses believe that flexible work, whether office hours or location, is more cost-efficient. A desk for a single employee in London can cost £12,000 a year. So use these kinds of arguments in your flexible working application.
If you can work flexibly on a temporary basis during the Games, use the time to achieve as much as you can, so when you come to apply to extend the arrangement, you can point to achievements during that period to support your case. It is also worth asking to extend the temporary arrangement – for example, by saying that you’ve been working flexibly for 4-6 weeks – if the employer is not yet convinced that it works for the business, could you carry on for another 4-6 weeks to give the arrangement a more lengthy trial?
Employers will need to consider issues such as:
- confidentiality (made more difficult to police by remote working);
- your health and safety (an employer needs to rely on you to risk-assess your working environment); and
- the robustness of their IT systems (do they have enough licences for remote working applications, can their servers support increased numbers of home workers).
So give some thought to these issues when making your application and how they can be addressed.
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.