Job sharing and other options for return to work after maternity leave

Juggling the demands of both parenting and a busy career are, in theory, less black and white choices now, as the law provides much greater flexibility for parents.

Employees, both full and part-time, with 26 weeks’ service have the right to ask for flexible working. Flexible working is any working pattern other than the normal working pattern, so it can involve changes to the hours an employee works, and the times or their place of work. Employers must consider requests in a reasonable manner and they can only be refused for one of eight business reasons.

  • The burden of additional costs.
  • A detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand.
  • An inability to reorganise work among other employees.
  • An inability to recruit additional employees.
  • A detrimental effect on quality.
  • A detrimental effect on performance.
  • Insufficient work at the times when the employee proposes to work.
  • Planned structural changes.

Flexible working can include a job sharing arrangement, which is where one job is usually shared between two people. This can be a really useful arrangement to keep experienced employees on the team, whilst ensuring a
‘full time’ role is still carried out. The employees might work alternate days, half days or alternate weeks.

Requests for flexible working must be made in writing and should detail the changes they are asking to be made, how they think the change will affect the business and how the business can handle it. It should also have the date the request is made and the date they would like it to start. This is important as an employee is only entitled to make one request in 12 months. They should also provide a statement that this is a statutory request for flexible working and if they have made a previous request/s, when they were made.

The employer must consider the request in a reasonable manner, and should therefore arrange to discuss the request with the employee as soon as possible. If the employee fails to attend two or more meetings without a reasonable explanation, then the employer can treat the request as being withdrawn.

When the employer meets with the employee, they should allow them to be accompanied by a work colleague if they wish, especially useful if it is a request to share the role as you can see how both employees are approaching the situation.

The employer should weigh up the benefits of the proposed changes with any adverse impact on the business and then let the employee know the decision as soon as possible. You might want to agree to a temporary arrangement to see if there is any impact but you should agree in advance how this will be reviewed and when. You should also consider the impact of the change on other members of staff and communicate the decision to them. It will be important to make sure work is allocated fairly so other employees don’t feel resentful or see their
own workload increase.

The employee has a right of appeal against the decision if you decide the request cannot be met for one of the eight reasons set out earlier. If they want to take further steps, they should be directed to use the firm’s own formal grievance procedure first to help try and resolve the situation. If it cannot be resolved internally, the employee may decide to involve a third party such as ACAS or by making a complaint to an employment tribunal. The employer could be ordered to reconsider the request and to pay the employee compensation.

Flexible work arrangements can have many benefits for the business, such as increasing productivity, helping to attract employees, reducing absenteeism, employee turnover and boosting morale and commitment.