Can an employer use a trial period to test whether or not a proposed flexible working arrangement would work?

Yes, an employer and employee may decide that a trial period should be implemented in respect of proposed flexible working arrangements. A trial period allows both the employer and the employee an opportunity to review how the arrangements work in practice, and whether or not they are likely to create any practical difficulties for the employee's department or for the business as a whole.

The employer must notify the employee of its final decision within three months of an employee's statutory request for flexible working, unless the employer and employee agree a longer time period. Therefore, before embarking on a trial period, the parties should agree to extend the statutory time limit under the flexible working procedure (unless the trial period will be completed within the three-month decision period).

In addition, the employer and employee should document the new working pattern, making clear that it is only a temporary variation to the terms of the employee's contract. The written agreement should state the start and end date of the trial period (with the employer reserving the right to cut it short or lengthen it as necessary) and the changes that have been agreed. It should record that the employer reserves the right, at the end of the agreed trial period, to require the employee to revert to his or her previous working arrangement. The document should be signed by both parties.