“Boss, I want to work from home…”

Small and medium-sized businesses can find the idea of flexible working daunting to manage. Employment lawyer Sarah Holmes gives her three golden rules for successful implementation.

2606710696_82b9f5bbb6_oIf you haven’t yet faced a flexible working request, 2016 could very well be the year. If you have already handled one, did you keep in mind the three golden rules?

Figures produced by the TUC last year said that the number of commuters spending more than two hours travelling to and from work is up by 72% in the last decade. For an employee, being allowed to avoid the dreaded commute could turn a grumpy co-worker into employee of the week, the month or even the year.

1. Be reasonable

All employees now have the right to request flexible working, but remember that it is a right to ask and not an automatic right that must be granted. You can refuse for any of eight prescribed business reasons, but the law requires you to give the request reasonable consideration.

There are lots of flexible work patterns that may be requested: annualised hours, compressed hours, shifts, altered start/end times or plain old part-time. If these are new concepts to you, get some advice on how they work in practice.

Take a little time to think about the training investment you’ve made in your employee and their value to your business. If you don’t think that the flexible request will work but you think there is a viable alternative, suggest it.

2. Use a trial period

Make any contractual change in work pattern subject to a trial period and review its success or failure at the end of that time. You can still refuse if the trial fails (as long as it fits one of the eight prescribed business reasons) and the employee then returns to their original contractual terms.

3. Revise your existing contracts and handbooks

A great employee in the office is unlikely to stop being a great employee because they work from home. While they may want to sit on the sofa, eat cake and watch Countdown in their pajamas you can easily manage their work day by drafting a home working clause in their contract and a home working policy that sets out acceptable behavior. While it may seem common sense not to conduct client facing video conferences with ironing on display in the background it is as well to make all those things clear.

While you can’t unilaterally change an employment contract you can do it if both parties agree. Asking for flexible working is asking for a change in contractual terms so make sure you record in the contract the change in location and any new rules that need to cover that change; for example, that might be insisting on a suitable work station, agreeing reasonable access to your employee’s home to service computer equipment, or new time recording methods to name but a few.

There is plenty of software available to monitor remote workers but you may not need it depending on what your employee actually does. If Fred is a number cruncher who must provide X data by Y time then you will soon know if he has been binging on Jeremy Kyle if his data is not provided on time.

Fred’s revised contract and job description should set out what his role is and his appraisal should set and review any revised objectives and targets. If he falls short he can be dealt with under your usual staff handbook performance and capability procedures.

Sarah Holmes is an employment lawyer at Canopy Law. For your free guide on how to employ home workers in the best way email: sarah@canopylaw.co.uk

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/daveaustria/

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