The Realities of Flexible Working Requests—by Rob Grinter, Mark David HR Ltd
There has been much media hype about the problems that extending the right to request flexible working will cause for employers. I don’t believe that this will be the case for most employers who have become accustomed to such requests from employees under previous legislation.
When the right to request flexible work was extended on 1st July 2014 some commentators predicted that there would be a deluge of applications from employees and employers would have little scope to refuse them without facing appeals and/or litigation.
This all sounds familiar.
Whenever employment legislation introduces new employee rights we get doom and gloom stories predicting the demise of British industry. On this occasion however I think the pessimists have got it wrong.
I am not saying that all businesses will find it easy to accommodate employee requests or that there will not be an increase in administration when dealing with requests. What I am saying is that it is far too early to gauge how attractive flexible working will be for employees and it might make more sense to look at the positives that flexible working could potentially bring for employers.
We often hear that employers in some sectors engage employees on zero-hours contracts to provide the flexibility that their businesses require. Other employers already have a predominantly part time workforce or offer flexi-time or staggered hours, term time working or allow employees to work from home.
This is proof that enlightened employers have recognised that the labour market has changed in the last twenty years as more and more people need to work flexibly in order to accommodate other commitments such as childcare, care for elderly relatives, picking children up from school and balancing work patterns in households where both partners work.
Employers have also seen the benefits of flexible working through such things as improved attendance, reductions in sickness absence, improved motivation and increased productivity.
The point I am making here is that there are already many ways that employers and employees use flexible working arrangements to get a job done and what we are seeing from 1st July is merely an extension of this right to request flexible working to all employees.
There will inevitably be some employees who will see this as an opportunity to demand flexible working when in fact they only have the right to request. It is likely that they will not accept their employers decision if a request is refused. Such employees have always existed and will continue to cause employers problems. This legislation does not create such employees and employers need to deal with their behaviour as they always should i.e. firmly and fairly. There will always be an employment lawyer looking for a lucrative tribunal case but this is nothing new.
I also appreciate, from talking to my clients, that some of them will genuinely find it difficult to grant employees flexible working. The legislation does not require them to “bend over backwards”, as one client described it, to accommodate a request. They are required however to give each request serious consideration. My experience is that most employers have always done that anyway.
It is too early to predict whether this legislation will bring more headaches for employers. The reality as I see it is that flexible working in many businesses has been here for some considerable time. Where it is embraced and embedded it has proved to work well for both the employer and the employee. As society changes there will be increasing requests to work flexibly from employees and many employers will be looking to recruit flexible workers to meet the changing demands of their customers. Both parties may need to change with the times.
Employers also need to appreciate that their highly skilled employees will always have the opportunity to move to employers who can offer them the hours they need and want to work. Those employers who don’t offer these opportunities may well see some of their most able employees drifting off to work for their competitors. Flexible working arrangements can therefore be a powerful retention tool in certain businesses.
Employers can look at this legislation in one of two ways. They can take the view that this is yet another burden which they could do without or they can try and see the potential benefits which it can bring to their business. The choice is theirs at the end of the day.
If they have a good business reason for refusing a request, and many will, then provided that they can demonstrate this they should have little to worry about.
I have deliberately left the detail of the new legislation until last in order to discuss the wider context in which it is introduced. Here it is in summary form.
- From 30 June 2014 all employees have the statutory right to request flexible working.
- Employees need 26 weeks’ continuous service to make a request
- One request can be made in a twelve month period.
- If a request is granted it may be considered as a permanent change to the employee’s working hours.
- Employers need to have a good business reason for rejecting a request.
- The statutory procedure for dealing with flexible working requests is repealed.
- The right to request flexible working applies to both full-time and part-time employees.
- If a request for flexible working is refused, the employee must make any claims to an employment tribunal within three months of the decision to refuse the request.
If you are concerned about the implications of flexible working for your business please contact Rob Grinter, Director, Mark David HR Ltd on 01207 500952 or 07792 602 142 or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org
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