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World Mental Health Day 2019 – The Importance of Flexible Working.

Thursday 10 October 2019 marked World Mental Health Day, therefore it would seem a prevalent time to look at ways in which those who experience mental health difficulties, can feel supported in the workplace.

The Labour Force Survey of self-reported work-related ill-health and workplace injuries published by the Health and Safety Executive reports that 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18. 44% of all work-related ill health cases were attributable to stress, depression or anxiety (and the total number of people affected by the same was 595,000). It is clear that mental ill health in the workplace is a real issue and one that employers should be live to, in order to be in the best position to support their workforce.

People are fighting all kinds of internal battles every day and are often expected to continue to go about their day in the same way as they do when they are feeling their best. Everyone has different requirements and ways in which they find they work better. Some people work best in the morning, others in the evening. Some prefer to work fewer days with longer hours and some quite the opposite. Flexible working is about taking one individual’s situation and considering what would make it a more manageable and productive environment for them, so that when they need it the most, there is a supportive structure in place which allows them to continue to work to the best of their ability. Workplace flexibility may come in all shapes and sizes, as the phrase suggests. The idea of course, is to have a situation that is right for the individual, whether that be leaving work a little earlier every Wednesday to attend a therapy session, the ad hoc ability to work from home, working amended hours, the list goes on. The point being that it is supposed to suit the needs of the person who requires it.

Legal considerations

  • All employees are entitled to make a request for flexible working, provided they are an employee for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996, section 80F(1). The statutory right does not extend to agents, consultants or self-employed contractors.
  • The employee must have 26 weeks’ continuous service at the date when the request is made (Regulation 3, Flexible Working Regulations).
  • Only one request can be made in one 12 month period (section 80F(4), Employment Rights Act 1996).
  • The employer must provide their decision within the ‘decision period’ of three months (section 80G Employment Rights Act 1996).

Flexible working centres on mutual trust and respect between an employer and employee. Entrusting those who make decisions about the way they want to work and the way they work best can have a huge impact on mental wellbeing and productivity. It is perhaps an obvious point that an individual who has a work environment and set up which makes them feel comfortable and supported would take less sickness absence. A flexible working arrangement can be mutually beneficial for both employer and employee.

This bulletin is for general guidance only and should not be used for any other purpose. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

JMW Solicitors is a Limited Liability Partnership.