More employees to have flexible working rights

From the 30th June 2014 all employees with more than 26 weeks continuous employment, regardless of whether they have children or not, will have the legal right to make a flexible working request to their employer in new government regulations being introduced to ‘bring the UK workforce into the 21st century’.

The current system only allows parents to make such requests based on childcare responsibilities. However, the new rules will mean that all qualifying employees can make a reasonable request for flexibility in their working pattern.

David Southern, employment partner at Linder Myers in Lancashire, said: “This is a significant change and one which businesses should handle with care. From an employee’s perspective this is good news as it affords those who don’t have children with equal rights. From an employer’s perspective however, care needs to be taken to balance the needs of the business when considering such requests while also avoiding any risk of claims for discrimination.

“SMEs are the most likely to be impacted by the new rules not least due to the additional resource such requests will take to manage. The key points for smaller businesses to be aware of to ensure compliance is that they must carefully consider each request and discuss them with the employee. A decision needs to be made promptly within three months of receiving a written request.

“Employers have a right to reject flexible working requests as long as they base their decision on one of eight strictly prescribed business reasons such as the burden of any additional costs which would be incurred or if accepting the request would have a detrimental impact on service levels and ability to meet customer demand.

“The new rules can have a very positive impact on businesses if handled properly and may go some way in boosting employee morale and loyalty. Requests for minor changes in working patterns such as slightly later start times balanced with a later finish can be an easy request for an employer to accommodate but can make a big difference to the employee.”

The new legislation allows for flexible working requests to be rejected based on one of the following reasons:

  1. If accepting the request would incur significant additional costs
  2. The inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff (this may be the case if a full time employee requests a significant reduction in hours to fulfil the same role)
  3. The inability to recruit additional staff i.e. if an employee requests an unreasonable change in hours / days worked which would prove expensive or difficult to cover with additional staffing
  4. If the proposed changes would prove to have a detrimental impact on the quality of the work or service delivered
  5. The change would have a negative impact on performance
  6. The request would make it difficult or impossible to meet with customer demand
  7. There is an insufficient amount of work to fill the hours proposed in the request
  8. The request is not aligned with any planned structural changes to the business
David Southern added: “The key for businesses is to communicate the details of how to make a flexible working request to employees well in advance of the end of June highlighting that all requests will be considered against the backdrop of the reasonable needs of the business. “This avoids any confusion in the long term and sets out clear parameters from the beginning which should also prove an effective way to minimise unreasonable requests and avoid unnecessary burdens on resources.”