What to do if your contract allows flexible working, but your boss doesn’t

Employers expect the proportion of people working from home on a regular basis to increase to 37% after the pandemic, a survey found. Photo: Getty
Employers expect the proportion of people working from home on a regular basis to increase to 37% after the pandemic, a survey found. Photo: Getty

Since lockdown was enforced in the UK on 23 March, people across various different sectors have had to adapt to new working environments, with many people having to get used to working from home.

Now restrictions are lifting, the government has urged people to consider returning to the workplace. Many people are reluctant, however, fearing contracting coronavirus and sparking a second wave of infections.

Office workers have also expressed hope that they will be offered the option of more flexible working, with some having found a better work/life balance while home-working. According to research by CIPD, employers expect the proportion of people working from home on a regular basis to increase to 37% after the pandemic, compared to 18% before.

Some employers are open to flexible working, having successfully trialled it during the pandemic. But others are still keen for staff to return to their workplaces as soon as possible. Even if your contract allows flexible working, your boss may not.

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“Although remote working has been around for many years, it tended to be seen as a benefit, desired by many but only available to a select few and when accompanied by some years of experience,” says Yvonne Smyth, director of Hays Human Resources. “It was certainly nowhere near a standard way of working for the vast majority of professionals.”

COVID-19 has put these assumptions and the stigma associated with them to the test. In just a few months, traditional office-based jobs have been successfully done from home with the right technology.

So what should you do if your boss has a problem with remote working?

“As we plan a return to offices, there may be an explicit or implied expectation that everyone will return to the office full time, social distancing permitting,” Smyth says. “If you think you work in this type of environment and believe you and your role have benefitted from working remotely, I recommend now is the time to have a discussion about a more permanent working arrangement.” 

Firstly, remember your rights. At the moment, employees in the UK with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service have the legal right to request flexible working for any reason. This can be to request a change to full-time or part-time work, job-share, work from home, or a change of working days or hours. Employers are legally obliged to consider flexible working requests in a reasonable manner.

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When bringing this up with your boss, you should come prepared with evidence to demonstrate your performance and achievements while working remotely.

“Be front-footed and assured in showing that you can successfully deliver what is required of you, even if you’re not based in the office all the time,” Smyth says.

“Note however that most roles will still require you to be in the office, some of the time. Remember also that there is likely to be some negotiation to make a remote working arrangement work for both parties and importantly that negotiations are two way.”

Even if you work in a large organisation with good written policies, some managers may still be unsure about allowing flexible working. They may resist change, lack experience of managing flexibility or have too few responses. However, their reasons for refusal must be fair.

Finally, prepare a fall-back position too. “There may be genuine reasons why your boss has initial reservations against remote working,” Smyth says.

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“Come prepared to your discussion with a solution that provides assurance that the agreed essential elements of a role will be delivered as a minimum. Pilot and then review the agreement. As with the wholesale flip to remote working, where there’s a will there’s a way.”

If your employer has refused your statutory request for flexible working, they should allow you to discuss their refusal with them, according to Citizens Advice. There are steps you can take if you feel you are treated unfairly, including raising a grievance.