Flexible working: A new right to request

With over 15 years experience working for some of the UK’s top employment law firms, Laura Milne is at the forefront of employment law, specialising in every aspect of it including discrimination, TUPE, settlement agreements, dismissals, redundancies, and performance improvement. In this article Laura tells us about the upcoming changes for British workers to request the right to work flexibly.

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“An important change to the UK employment laws will be coming into force on the 30th June 2014. Providing you are an UK employee you will have a legal right to request to work flexibly. Employers in turn, will then have a legal obligation to answer that request and must also provide a valid written reason if they can’t agree that the employee can work flexibly.

I think it’s important for employers and employees to understand this is not a legal right to work flexibly but remains only a right to ask.

Previously this right to request work flexibly only applied to parents of children under the age of 16, and those registered as carers for children or adults, because it might better suit their home life. However, now all employees can make this request irrespective of their family or care commitments. This change is fairly considerable and one both employers and managers need to be aware of.

An employer still needs to hold a meeting to discuss the application and then they must provide a written explanation of why such working pattern may (or may not) be possible for their particular organisation.

Flexible working encompasses a wide variety of working patterns, including compressed hours, flexi-time, home working, job-sharing, staggered hours and term-time only working.

Some conditions to the application process are as follows;

• The application must be made by someone employed.
• They must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the date the request is made.
• They must not be an agency worker or a member of the armed forces.
• They must not have made another request to work flexibly under the Right to Request Legislation in the preceding twelve months.

Can an employer reject the flexible working request?

In short, yes but only if one or more of eight specified business grounds, where refusal would bring or lead to:
1. Additional costs;
2. An effect on the ability to meet customer demand;
3. Inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
4. Inability to recruit new staff;
5. A detrimental impact on quality;
6. A detrimental impact on performance;
7. Insufficiency of work during period of work proposed by the employee; or
8. Planned structural changes.

All requests, including any appeals, must be considered and decided on within a period of three months from first receipt, unless an extension is agreed.

I don’t believe this to be as arduous an obligation on employers as some members of the press claim, but it is an important change nonetheless. It shows a change in attitude towards the traditional 9-5 – a real sign of the times.

How should an employer prepare for this change?

Some things you might now wish to consider are;

1. Update existing flexible working policies to ensure consistency and clear communication.
2. Review home-working practices and policies.
3. Provide training for Managers.
4. Examine staffing requirements to help deal with any requests and justify your decisions.

We might expect to see some teething problems for this change, but I do believe it to be a positive step from which both employers and employees will benefit in the long term.”

Email; info@limehr.com for a FREE template of the flexible working policy.

Follow Laura on twitter @UKLaw4Employers for further advice and guidance on this and other HR issues.