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Question: "We are beginning to get requests for flexible working. Can we refuse? If so, how?"
Certain employees have a right to request, though not demand, flexible working; for example, to work reduced or different hours, or from home. If that is the case, then you are required to consider the request seriously and try to accommodate the employee. If you are unable to do so, because of a sound business reason, you must set out the reason in a written reply that must also explain the right of appeal.
If the employees do not have this statutory right you should nevertheless consider seriously and respond to their requests, partly for good management reasons and partly to avoid complaints of discrimination. The latter may well come from women who have problems collecting children from school. Many employers who have conceded a lot of requests for flexible working have found that they themselves are gaining flexibility as well as improvements in employee relations and attendance. Give it a try!
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