Flexible Working Reform: Are you ready?
By Luke Golding HR
As of 30th June 2014 the right to request flexible working will extend to all employees. This has the potential to dramatically increase the number of requests that employers receive, so the question to ask yourself is, are you ready?
The position prior to June this year was that the right to request flexible working applied only to parents of children under the age of 17 (or 18 in the case of parents of disabled children) or to those caring for an adult. However, once the Government reforms kick in next month, every employee will have the statutory right to ask to work flexibly, after 26 weeks of employment service. Although it should be noted that employees will only be able to make a statutory request once every 12 months.
This widely extends the number of employees who will be able to make use of this right; which, it does not take Mystic Meg to predict, will very likely increase the number of flexible working requests that we see in the work place.
It is also worthy to note that, prior to June 2014, there was also a prescribed and relatively rigid procedure which employers were required to follow, once a request had been received. However, this is also being replaced with a rather broader obligation to handle flexible working requests in a “reasonable manner”.
What does this mean for you?
While employers will likely welcome a move away from the more restrictive and prescribed procedure contained under the previous regime; the new statute provides no meaningful information as to what may amount to handling a request in a “reasonable manner”. This could leave some employers in a rather ‘un-guided’ position and actually increase the likelihood of problems arising.
Thankfully, however, ACAS have stepped in and provided some rather useful advice – via a draft Code of Practice and also accompanying guidance. Both of these documents are very well worth considering, if you are in a position where you do (or are likely to) deal with flexible working requests.
The information and steps contained in the ACAS Code of Practice are not strictly legally binding, but they will likely be taken into account by an Employment Tribunal when considering a complaint relating to a flexible working request. In fact, to further muddy the waters, the references contained in the Code (by and large) recommend that employers ‘”should” take certain steps – with a proviso included at the outset stating that “should” relates to ‘good practice’ rather than a legal requirement.
Given the lack of complete clarity as to what a ‘reasonable’ response to a flexible working request will entail; it is very worthwhile ensuring that you have in place a clear policy for handling requests of this nature.
Having a well drafted policy in place, and actually following this policy, can serve to ensure consistency in how requests are responded to, while also promoting clarity and transparency. Steps that should place you in very good stead if you were to ever face a Tribunal claim relating to a flexible working request.
If you require any further information on this topic, or would simply like to chat through the new regime, please do not hesitate to contact the Travlaw HR team.