Jane Crosby: Why employers need to care about employees’ work-life balance

Jane Crosby

Given Britain’s ageing population, employees are under increasing pressure to balance their working lives with looking after elderly relatives.

Employers have an obligation to consider flexible working for employees with caring responsibilities. The change in normal working hours can be to the number of hours worked, or to the start and end time, or might be in the form of allowing some work to be carried out at home.

However, the employer is only required to consider the request, and can reasonably refuse to grant any flexible working request if it would result in a negative impact on the business, which could include an inability to meet customer demands.

The obligation to treat all employees’ requests for flexible working has to be taken seriously, not least because of the implications of a refusal. For example, an employee may have to resign if they cannot fit the employer’s core hours around caring commitments. There is also a certain time limit for dealing with these type of requests.

If an employee feels they have been treated unfairly and believes the refusal is unreasonable, then an employer could have to deal with a time consuming Employment Tribunal (ET) claim.

Disagreement is most likely to arise where an employee considers the reasons for refusal have not been carefully considered. This is especially likely if flexible working has been granted in similar circumstances in the past.

The right to request flexible working has been extended to employees who do not have primary caring responsibilities. For example, relatives who are not the main carers in the family could also apply for flexible working, while others may prefer to miss the rush hour traffic by starting work an hour later and perhaps working an hour later. Working from home would accommodate many employees who would otherwise face a long commute.

While any changes can be viewed as potentially problematic, many employees may find a more relaxed approach to their working hours in the office beneficial; this can have a positive impact for employers, too, causing employees to feel more engaged at work.

Providing requests are taken seriously, and a fair process is undertaken with employers willing to consider flexibility, there is no reason why a change in the way of working should not result in a more productive and happy workforce.

Jane Crosby is partner at law firm Hart Brown