Flexible working arrangements come in many forms and can relate to the location, hours and time of work. Common examples include working from home, part-time working, flexi-time, compressed hours, job sharing and shift working.
Under the current rules, the right to request flexible working is limited to those with children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) and those with responsibilities as a carer.
As of 30th June 2014, the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous employment.
Janine Lawton, a solicitor specialising in employment law at Tallents in Newark explains what this means for employers.
In line with the current position, the right to request is just that, a right to request; an employer is not required to agree to the request and an employee is limited to one request in any 12 month period. The changes will remove the statutory procedure for any requests made on or after 30th June 2014 (though any requests made before 30th June 2014 should be concluded in line with the existing procedure).
However, the employer will have a duty to consider the request of any employee who has over 26 weeks’ continuous service in a reasonable manner. The employer will need to conclude the process and notify the employee of the decision within 3 months of the date of the application.
Failure to comply with their obligations under the new rules could result in compensation of eight weeks’ pay (currently capped at £464 per week) but employers should also be mindful of the risk that a refusal could discriminate against an employee who falls within one of the protected categories under the Equality Act 2010.
Employers do not have to approve every flexible working request and have the right to refuse on one of eight specified business grounds. However employers must be very careful not to discriminate when considering requests to work flexibly.
Depending on the individual’s circumstances, a refusal could give rise to allegations of discrimination. It is therefore important that an employer is able to demonstrate that a proper procedure has been followed and that the reason for any refusal is made clear.
To ensure the requests are handled correctly, we are recommending that employers review and update their existing flexible working policy to ensure requests made from 30 June 2014 are handled consistently and to provide clear guidance to employees about what their application must include. At Tallents, we can help employers draft appropriate policies.
At Tallents, we have employment law specialists who can help you through this regulatory change and ensure that both your business and your employees’ rights are fully protected.