As of 30th June 2014, any employees who have worked at a company for at least 26 weeks of continuous service will be covered by the legal right to request flexible working arrangements. Previously the legislation only extended to parents or those with caring responsibilities. The new rules, which are being implemented by The Children and Families Act 2014, mean that employers will need to consider flexible working requests made by any of their employees who meet the 26 week threshold in a “reasonable manner” and notify them of their decision within three months.
How will the changes affect employers in practice?
A YouGov survey commissioned by Croner suggested that over a quarter of employees plan to make requests for flexible working arrangements, potentially leading to a deluge of work for employers in keeping on top of their duties to deal with this surge in the volume of requests. However, the grounds on which an employer can reject any such requests remain the same (under the Employment Rights Act 1996), namely: the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; inability to re-organise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; detrimental impact on performance; insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work and planned structural change
The wide ambit of these grounds means that the right to request flexible working by employees is very much a right to “request” – not a right to demand. Although employers may have more red tape to deal with as a result of the extension of this right, and will need to update their Flexible Working Policy accordingly, they will still be able to determine their company policy with regards to flexible working. Furthermore, under the changes, employers will no longer be required to follow a statutory procedure when considering such requests. Instead, they will simply need to consider each request in a reasonable manner (objectively and fairly) and to notify each employee of their decision within three months of the request being made (subject to any agreed extension).
How are employment contracts affected by flexible working?
If you agree to an employee’s request for flexible working, it will often be necessary to make changes to their contract of employment to take account of their new working pattern. A variation of employment deed or alteration letter for employment Ts and Cs can be used for this purpose. Where the changes are more extensive, you may need to form a new employment contract altogether, possibly adopting a part time, compressed hours, zero hours or other more suitable contract.
Is your business prepared for the flexible working changes – and do you think it’s a move in the right direction?
For more information on your responsibilities regarding flexible working, take a look at some of these pages: