Changes to flexible working - considerations for employers

From 30 June 2014, there will be a change to the current legislation regarding flexible working.

By Karen Credie, KMCHR.

Where previously, only a restricted category of workers (those with children or dependants) could make such requests, it will very soon be a right afforded to all employees who have worked in a business for 26 weeks or longer.

Before you start to panic, it is important to note that whilst there is a right for employees to be able to request changes to their working patterns, they do not have the right to be granted them. There is a concern for employers, however, as under the new laws, employers will be required to consider any request for flexible made by an employee, no matter what the reason the employee gives. Therefore, it might be become more difficult for employers to maintain a fair approach; thus running the risk of appearing to discriminate.

With any request for flexible working, employers must consider it within eight specified parameters and make a decision based on these. The grounds under which a request can be refused include detrimental effect on quality or performance, inability to recruit additional staff, or the burden of additional costs. So essentially, if there is a potential operational issue or significant cost to which the business would be exposed if an employee were to change their working patterns, a request could be refused.

Employers should adhere to the guidelines surrounding these reasons to refuse, regardless of the reason the employee has given for the proposed change, so as to stay within the far-reaching bounds of discrimination within the Equality Act. Where employers are at all unsure, it would be advisable to consult an HR expert.

Whilst the idea of having employees working from home, starting and finishing at different times or working a reduced number of days a week may appear to be an organisational and management nightmare, there may be positives arising from having a ‘flexible’ approach to flexible working.

Employees who are perhaps struggling with full-time hours might be afforded a new lease of life if they were to work reduced hours, or efficiency might improve if a ‘night owl’ worker, who perhaps struggles in the morning, is allowed to start and finish later. As technology continues to improve and with ever advancing cloud based systems, flexibility, especially in terms of remote working, is only going to increase in the future. Instead of seeing this as a negative, a business that embraces working from home could almost certainly use this as positive PR, thus making themselves more attractive as an employer than a competitor who sticks with the more traditional ‘9 – 5’ office-based model.