29 January 2014
Practical Guidance on Dealing with Flexible Working Requests: Recommended Steps for Employers
The reality is that requests to work flexibly are increasing in Hong Kong. As such it is advisable for employers to prepare to deal with them before they arise.
This Bitesize sets out some practical tips:
- Have a clear written policy in relation to flexible working and ensure that it is followed.
- Take steps to ensure that all employees are aware of the policy so that the employer's obligations are clear.
- Start from a positive perspective ("How can we do this?", rather than "How can we avoid this?"). Courts are often critical of employers who approach a request to work flexibly by considering why it won't work rather than how any difficulties could be overcome. For example, the employer may wish to consider a trial period.
- If the employee's proposed arrangement is not acceptable, consider (and propose) alternatives. The more flexible the employer can be in suggesting alternative arrangements, the greater the chance of justifying its decision. If there is a reluctance to agree to a permanent change, consider a temporary change or a trial period. Explain and discuss the difficulties with the employee.
- Document the new arrangement carefully. Remember that a lack of clarity leads to disputes.
- Document all reasons for declining an application carefully.
- Don't dismiss an application for flexible work without considering it. The world (and technology) changes so what may have been impossible 5 years ago may now be possible.
- Don't give junior staff the power to decline an application for flexible work. All applications should go through a process.
- Don't be inconsistent. Employers should aim to ensure that flexible working requests are recorded and preferably processed in a way that ensures that decisions are made consistently.
- Don't question whether or not the employee should be looking after a child or relative (don't say, for example, "Can't your maid/mother/wife/husband look after the baby?"). If the employee has care of such child (or relative) then the employee is protected, whether or not there is someone else who could care for the child instead.