February 27, 2014

Extending the right to request flexible working

The right to request flexible working is soon to be extended to all employees with 26 weeks’ service – not just those caring for a child or dependant adult.

Although the extension was expected to come into force this April, the changes have been delayed until 30th June 2014.

What will change?

  • The current “right to request” procedure will be replaced with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner, and within a “reasonable” period.
  • A statutory Code of Practice will clarify the meaning of “reasonable” and provide guidance to employers on how to prioritise conflicting requests that are received at the same time.

ACAS guidance highlights the following key points:

  • Employees must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the date an application is made.
  • Employers have a statutory duty to consider applications.
  • Once agreed, the flexible pattern of work will become a permanent change to the contract of employment.
  • An employee has the right to appeal against the outcome of a request or to negotiate an agreement where any requested hours cannot be met.
  • Only one application can be made in any 12 month period.

There are many forms of flexible working. It can describe a place of work, for example, home-working. Other common variations include part-time working, flexitime, job sharing and shift working.

These changes will be closely followed by amendments to maternity, paternity and adoption legislation. A new system, known as ‘Shared Parental Leave’, is expected to be introduced in April 2015. It will give parents greater flexibility on when, how and by whom leave is taken. New mothers, or the primary adopter, will be able to end their maternity/adoption leave early (after 2 weeks) and share the remaining weeks as ‘shared parental leave’ with their partner. Leave may be taken separately or at the same time.

What are the likely benefits of the extension to flexible working?

The extension to flexible working is expected to have massive cost benefits for organisations and the economy too. Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of work/life organisation ‘Working Families’ stated… “The Government’s own assessment shows the extension to flexible working will bring a net benefit of £222.5 million to employers through increased productivity and through savings from reduced sickness, absenteeism and recruitment costs”. (Source – CIPD website “Working families reveals almost a third of parents denied flexi-time” – 28th January 2014.)

What are the likely implications of the proposed changes?

Supporters believe that the extension to flexible working will bring positive changes to the workplace through a decrease in stressed and anxious employees. Workers are likely to become more motivated which, in turn, should result in a more committed, engaged and productive workforce. Additionally, the more control over how and when work is carried out is perceived to give individuals a greater sense of empowerment.

Some employers and industry bodies have expressed concern that it is not practical for all employers to implement flexible working practices and it is difficult to manage the disruption, particularly for small businesses. It is believed that the changes could increase uncertainty for employers in terms of the additional administrative burden and the potential risks to the organisation when a flexible working request is declined.

There are some skeptical opinions that the legislation changes may not alter working practices significantly. Although employers must seriously consider a request for flexible working, it can still be refused, provided the reason for declining the change meets the grounds specified in the regulations. Other opinions suggest it may create poor employee relations… “The Government’s proposals risk causing unnecessary friction between parents and employers and raise unrealistic expectations about the level of flexibility most businesses will be able to accommodate”. (Source – Dr. Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce.)

Nevertheless, Peter Cheese Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development believes that “Employers should have nothing to fear and much to gain from embracing this change, and using it as an opportunity to consider how flexible working practices can attract a more diverse workforce”. (Source – CIPD website.)

Where can I get further help and advice?

For Moorepay HR clients, our HR Advice Line can provide support and advice on family-friendly regulations. Please telephone an Advisor, on 0845 073 0240, who will be happy to assist you.

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