Requests to change hours of work and patterns of work - guidance for managers

Oxford Brookes is committed to promoting and practising equal opportunities in employment. This includes giving employees, wherever practicable, the opportunity to work more flexibly. The University supports a variety of forms of flexible working including part-time or part-year working, job sharing, compressed hours and flexi-time. Although there is no automatic right for employees to work flexibly the University is keen to ensure that all requests are considered fairly and all options are explored fully before any decisions are made.

The purpose of this guidance is to assist mangers in their decision making when considering a request from an employee to change their hours or pattern of work. It should be read before the meeting to consider a request to change hours or pattern of work takes place or form B (the official response to an application) is completed, and in conjunction with the University’s policy on the Right to Request a Change in Hours or Working Patterns.

This guidance reflects the legislative framework as laid out in the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform guide for employers and employees Flexible Working – The right to request and the duty to consider’.

The right to request a change

Employees with 26 weeks continuous service with the University who have a child under the age of 16, or a disabled child under the age of 18, or are the carer of an adult have a statutory right to request a change in their working hours.

A carer is someone who is or expects to be caring for an adult who: is married to, or the partner or civil partner of the employee, or is a relative of the employee, or falls into neither category but lives at the same address as the employee.

As a reflection of its commitment to offering flexible working patterns, and helping employees balance paid work and their personal life, the University has extended the entitlement to request a change of hours and/or pattern of work to all employees with 26 weeks continuous service.

Responsibility of managers considering a request

It is the responsibility of managers in conjunction with HR to ensure that when considering an application:

  • All requests are given full and fair consideration in accordance with University Policy.
  • The time frames laid down in the policy are adhered to or, where changes may be necessary, these are agreed in advance with the employee and confirmed in writing.
  • The employee is given appropriate support and information throughout the application process.
  • Requests are only refused after careful consideration and where there is a good and substantiated business case for doing so.

The initial meeting and the duty to consider

Once a request for a flexible working pattern has been submitted managers are required to hold a meeting with the employee concerned within 28 days to consider their request.

Employees should be made aware of their right to be accompanied by a fellow employee or a trade union representative.

The meeting provides an opportunity for both parties to explore the options available and to clarify any concerns or questions they may have. It is important that all applications are considered fairly and approached with an open mind and that no decisions are made before the meeting takes place. If managers are worried that the working pattern applied for could be problematic the meeting provides an opportunity for both sides to look at how the suggested working pattern could be managed and where necessary to suggest and explore alternatives.

Before holding the meeting the manager might want to consider:

  • Preparing a list of the issues that are of concern/need clarification
  • Consulting with colleagues of the employee to ascertain the level of support for the application (for example if the employee wants to reduce their hours is there anyone else on a part-time contract who would like to increase theirs?)
  • Reviewing the variety of flexible working options available in Brookes if they feel an alternative option might be more appropriate/successful.

If, prior to holding the meeting, the manager has any concerns about the practicalities of an application, a member of Human Resources should always be consulted before the meeting takes place and must be present at the meeting. It is also advised that managers with such concerns consult with senior managers within their Faculty or Directorate to explore the options available.

No decisions should be taken at the meeting itself. Following the meeting the line manager should complete the Response Form and return it to HR within seven days.Where refusing a request, consultation should take place with HR and senior managers on whether other acceptable alternative patterns of working could be offered and to ensure that any refusals are reasonable and are supported by clear and genuine business grounds (see below for more information on what constitutes a genuine and substantiated business ground). In all instances Human Resources must provide a written response to the request within 14 days of the meeting.

Reasons for refusing a request

An application can only be refused if there is a clear business reason. The business grounds for refusal must be one (or more) of the following:

  • Burden of additional costs
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • Inability to recruit additional staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Detrimental impact on performance
  • Insufficiency of work during the period the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes

The quality of evidence expected if a manager wishes to refuse a request

It is essential that all requests are considered carefully and that, where an application is refused clear and genuine business grounds are given to justify that refusal. Managers must be sure they have sufficient evidence and good and verifiable reasons to support any refusal.

For example:
It would not be sufficient for a manager simply to state ‘the change requested will negatively impact on service quality’ or that ‘the change will lead to additional costs for the department’. Unsupported assertions do not constitute sufficient evidence. Managers will need to demonstrate on what basis they are claiming that service quality will be affected or costs will rise. If they can provide evidence to support their case then this should be made available, if they cannot then they should identify how the likely impact on service quality or costs is being measured.

Presenting evidence at an appeal

Where a request is turned down employees have the right to appeal against the decision. Appeals can be made for any reasons but will often focus on the correctness of the decision made and the quality of the evidence used to support that decision.

This appeal provides a final opportunity for managers to present additional evidence to support their decision. If managers feel that genuine problems will be created if the pattern of work requested is granted it is essential that they provide evidence to support their opinion.

Further advice and guidance

If mangers have any concerns about how to manage a request to work flexibly further advice and guidance is available from the Directorate of Human Resources.

To support line managers and other interested staff in understanding how flexible working patterns can be managed Oxford Brookes has a produced a good practice guide which provides university based examples as well as relevant examples from other employers on the implementation details of work-life balance policies and practices. An online version of the best practice guide is available.

Further useful information is available on the Equal Opportunities Commission website.

Policy update and responsibilities

This guidance was last updated in May 2008 and will next be reviewed in May 2009.

Responsibility for this policy lies with the HR Team (Equal Opportunity and Diversity) .