Jul 10, 2014

Flexible Working

Are you prepared?

All employees can now request to work flexibly under the new flexible working regulations. The only two caveats are that employees must have 26 weeks continuous employment and must not have made a flexible working request in the preceding 12 months. This was previously only applicable to employees who were parents or carers.

As an employer, you may be feeling apprehensive over the changes in the flexible working legislation which came in after much hype and delay on 30 June 2014. At a time when employment law is increasingly seen as becoming employee-centric, employers may feel this is yet another setback for them. According to a poll conducted by a digital solutions company, LogMeIn, 64% of employees can now apply for flexible working and as many as 56% of the employees are now considering requesting flexible working.

Employers now have a legal obligation to consider all such requests in a reasonable manner. Further the employer must give a valid reason for refusing a request which must be one of the existing eight business grounds. Employers must also be aware of any potential discrimination issues that may arise with multiple requests and must treat each request on its own merit. Finally while the statutory procedure has been repealed, employers must deal with requests within a reasonable time frame. ACAS has published guidance on how employers can deal with flexible working requests.

As with any change in employment law, there is a lot of brouhaha about how businesses will be adversely affected. We believe this may not necessarily be bad for employers. Well for starters, you would have a happier and loyal workforce as they will now be better equipped to balance work and their personal lives. And that would also mean efficiency and increased productivity for employers. Many small employers already use zero hours contract to seek flexibility amongst their workforce. The new flexible working regulations can be a step forward in the same direction. We anticipate an increase in the use of trial periods which will help employers and employees decide whether or not a flexible working arrangement can work.

In order to avoid any pitfalls and potential discrimination claims, employers must deal with requests in the order they are submitted. Requests must not be based on who the employer thinks is more deserving - in effect this implies that parents and carers must not be given preference over other employees. Finally it is important to remember employees have the right to request flexible working; they do not automatically have the right to work flexibly. All in all, so long as companies are prepared for what the change will bring about, have updated their policy on flexible working and are able to manage expectations through an open and honest discussion, flexible working can be an effective and useful tool.

For those of you who have been caught unawares by the change in the regulations or if you are amongst the 64% of employers (as suggested by the LogMeIn poll) who do not offer any flexible working arrangements, the coming months may just be full of unwelcome surprises!