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‘Flexible work’ is a term that can cover all kinds of different arrangements. It could include:

  • having different hours of work;
  • working different days of the week; or
  • working from home or a location other than the office.

Flexible work can help employees manage their responsibilities outside work. It can also offer a range of benefits to businesses. 

For instance, they can help retain good staff, manage office space better, and raise morale.

In New Zealand, employees have the right to request a flexible working arrangement. All employers then have the responsibility to carefully consider the request. This article will set out:

  • what a flexible work arrangement is;
  • how you should manage requests as an employer; and
  • when it is acceptable to decline an employee’s request.

What is a Flexible Work Arrangement?

Flexible work arrangements are where employees work in a different way from the standard timeframe and location in their role. This is typically a 9am-5pm Monday-Friday schedule for full-time workers, located at an office. Flexible work arrangements can cover a wide variety of different variations on this. 

Flexible work arrangements can involve quite minor changes.

For example, your employee might ask if they can start an hour later in the mornings and finish an hour later so that they can drop a child off to childcare for the day. 

Alternatively, flexible work arrangements can be quite significant.

For instance, an employee might request that they move to reduced hours or split the role with another employee. For this to happen, you may need to redesign their job and split responsibilities among different employees and may need to recruit.

How To Manage Employee Requests for Flexible Work

Employees do not need a special reason to make a request for a flexible work arrangement. They can make the request for any reason, and as the employer, you have a ‘duty to consider’ those requests. The law sets out the expectations on how you must manage these requests:

  • as an employer, you must think carefully about every request and reply in writing as soon as possible;
  • you must reply, at the latest, before a month has passed since the request;
  • while you do not necessarily have to agree to the employee’s request, if you decline it you need to explain to the employee why you are doing so in writing; and 
  • there is a good faith responsibility to work and compromise with the employee if you are able to do so, and if the business can manage such an arrangement

In some special circumstances, such as when an employee is eligible for support as someone affected by domestic violence, you will have an obligation beyond other employees to support them if they submit a request to work flexibly for a period of time. In these circumstances, you should accommodate the employees’ request as much as possible. You would need an extremely strong reason to reject the request.

Declining An Employee Request for Flexible Work

There will always be circumstances where, due to the needs of the business, you will be unable to accept a request for flexible working arrangements. You can refuse a request from your employees for flexible work if there is a ‘recognised business ground’ for doing so, or if it conflicts with a collective agreement. 

‘Recognised business grounds’ include:

  • an inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
  • an inability to recruit additional staff;
  • detrimental impact on quality;
  • detrimental impact on performance;
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work;
  • planned structural changes;
  • burden of additional costs; or 
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.

This needs to be clearly communicated to the employee in question, with a business rationale for why their flexible working arrangement cannot be accommodated. This letter should be specific to the employee and their request.

Key Takeaways

Flexible work can help employees manage their responsibilities outside work and can offer a range of benefits to businesses. Employees in any job have the right to request a flexible working arrangement from their employer. When managing these requests, you should carefully consider whether their request can be accommodated. If business needs mean the arrangement would not work, you need to communicate this clearly to the employee within a month of their request. If you want to know more about flexible working arrangements, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570, or complete the form on this page.

FAQs

What is a flexible work arrangement?

Flexible work arrangements are where employees work in a different way from the standard timeframe and location in their role: typically, a 9am-5pm Monday-Friday schedule for full-time workers, located at an office. Flexible work arrangements can cover a wide variety of different variations on this. 

Am I legally required to accept an employee’s request for a flexible work arrangement?

No. While you have a duty under the law to carefully consider such a request, you can turn it down if there is a recognised business ground for doing so. These include if you think the flexible arrangement would hamper quality, performance or mean you could not meet customer demand.

Why are flexible work arrangements a good idea?

They often allow employees to manage their lives around work more easily. For businesses, there are also benefits: increased staff morale and retention, and you can even save on office-related costs if employees are working from home in greater numbers.

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