Countering the arguments against flexible working

We provide prompts to think through some of the perceived challenges to flexible working, for both managers and stewards

Despite the obvious benefits, there’s still resistance from some employers.

  • See #TalkAboutFlex’s case studies for how healthcare staff have made flex work for them and their services

Below are some common reasons for requests being refused - and how these challenges can be countered by managers and stewards.   Remember, you can trial an arrangement for a fixed period to see if it is sustainable over the longer term.

A policy which only supports either full time or half time hours

Check your local policy to see if it really is as inflexible as this.  If it is, raise with union or HR colleagues to negotiate improvements.

A blanket policy of this kind will be considered discriminatory. As women tend to have more childcare and/or caring responsibilities than men, insisting that women work long or inflexible hours can be direct sex discrimination. Men cannot claim indirect sex discrimination for childcare reasons but if a man is refused flexible working in a situation where women doing similar jobs are allowed to work flexibly, this could be direct discrimination. 

The employer needs to show that they have considered the request on an individual basis, taking account of any suggestions made about how this could work. It is helpful if the applicant provides evidence showing how they will be disadvantaged by a refusal.

A blanket rejection on grounds of cost

Needs to be backed up by evidence of how this has been accurately calculated.

ACAS recommends that employers take account less obvious savings, such as a reduction in overheads, better coverage of service (eg being able to offer extended hours services to patients) or increased outputs.

Any additional costs may not be as high as feared – National Insurance is no higher for a part timer because it is calculated as a percentage of salary; and often there are no demands for additional equipment, where it can be shared.

ACAS also recommends that employers consider the cost of recruiting additional staff against the cost of losing the existing person making the request. So, a refusal based simply on the grounds of problems recruiting to other posts may be challenged.

‘It won’t be good for patient care’

Check the basis on which this statement is made. With, for example, job sharers there may be extra costs in terms of training or attendance at staff meetings. But the benefits – such as two sets of skills and experience, views and ideas and motivated staff happy with their work-life balance – will bring improvements to service delivery that are worth this small extra cost.

There are many unexpected benefits of flexible working:

  • compressed hours can provide more staff cover at peak times or extra cover at lunch times
  • job sharers may provide cover when one partner is on leave or off sick
  • the service may also benefit from the additional responsibilities that more than one part timeworker can take on
  • additional staff means potentially additional cover for on-call rotas.

‘Finding a job share partner will be difficult’

Employers need to show that have made reasonable efforts to find a job share partner from inside and outside the organisation. They would also need to show that there would be particular difficulty in finding a job share partner, for example the job was highly skilled and it would be particularly difficult to get someone else to do the work part-time or to job share.

So, members should speak to other staff to see if any of them would be interested in increasing their hours. This may be an opportunity for a lower grade member of staff - or someone on maternity leave - to get experience at a more senior level while having the benefits of an experienced job share partner.  However, they should be very careful to maintain a separation of their two different roles.

‘Job sharing/part-time working won’t work in rotational posts’

A large number of physiotherapists and physiotherapy support workers up to Band 7 are rotational, so a blanket policy excluding these staff would discriminate and exclude unnecessarily.

 Job sharers can rotate together. Speak to the staff on rotations to see if they can identify any potential problems and how they can be overcome.

‘We are struggling to recruit to vacant posts and can’t afford to lose any more hours from the service’

If the employer is facing difficulties recruiting, they should think about the consequences if the member decides to look elsewhere to get the work-life balance they need. Stewards should keep a record of any physiotherapy staff who leave because of lack of flexible working opportunities.

Has the employer asked existing staff if they would like to increase their hours? Are you aware of any staff who may want to do this? Others may not have put in requests because they thought they would get a negative response.  ACAS recommends the employer talks to the team about any reorganisation of work where this would be appropriate before coming to a decision.

Does the employer include positive statements about flexible working in job adverts? This can open up a bigger field of candidates.

‘It will make managing the on-call rota even more difficult’

The participation of part time staff on the rota must be determined locally and will depend on the extent of the on-call service provided and the size of the department. CSP stewards should help ensure that there is a fair, transparent and agreed process within the department. This should include eligibility/exemption from the rota; expected frequency of on calls; arrangements for covering sickness; compensatory rest arrangements.

A request for flexible working could include coming off the on-call rota as well as a change to hours or days of work. Again the employer is not obliged to grant such requests but they must provide written, objective reasons why it cannot be accommodated.

‘The member of staff is too senior and has management responsibilities so part-time or job share working isn’t feasible, and will confuse staff’

A blanket approach like this is not justifiable. Every member of staff, whatever their grade, has to have their application considered seriously.

If a job share is managed properly then there is no reason why staff should be confused. 

Other job sharers will be keen to show that the arrangement is working well – so there will probably be examples in other areas and among other clinicians in senior posts. Speak to these staff about any problems they encountered and how they overcame them, which you can quote.

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