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  • Tar Tumber
  • 24 June 2014
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Are you ready for flexible working changes?

With the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 coming into force on 30 June, are you prepared for the upcoming changes to legislation?

At first glance, there might not seem to be much difference in what is available now and what will come into effect on that date, but with recent statistics suggesting nearly nine million full time workers would like to work ‘flexibly’, the fact the Regulations will now allow anyone with 26 weeks' service to request flexible working suggest otherwise. The key is whether employers understand the changes and what they need to do in preparation.

Currently, only employees with children aged under 17, or 18 if disabled, and those with eldercare responsibilities, who have 26 weeks' service are able to request flexible working. (i.e. a change to working hours or working location, or a mixture of the two).

Furthermore, and crucially, employees have an automatic right to request flexible working, but not an automatic right to have the request granted. That said, the business can only refuse the request under eight specific business reasons, and must go through a very structured, legal and time-bound procedure when considering the request. If the request is granted, it is a permanent change to terms and conditions; if it is not granted, the employee has the right to appeal and thereafter, the process is closed.

From 30 June, the basic right to request is unchanged, so employees can make up to one written request every year, but the procedure for dealing with the request will be more ‘relaxed’ and must be reasonable and completed from start to finish, including appeal, within three months. Again, the business can refuse on any of the eight business grounds.

Where the employee is unhappy with the outcome, they will still have recourse to Tribunal, where the Judge cannot normally investigate the rights and wrongs of the refusal, only whether the procedure has been properly followed. Where the Tribunal finds the employer has failed to comply, the maximum compensation is eight weeks' pay (currently capped at £464 per week).

So what do employers need to consider going forward? Well for those who do not have a formal flexible working policy in place, they might want to develop one. This could clearly set out when the employee can request flexible working; what that means; how to apply, including the information to include; how it will be considered; what happens if it is accepted or not; and the right to appeal. Even if you don’t want to formally set out a policy in writing, you will need to ensure that your employees are aware of this right and how to progress any applications.

You should also consider what happens if more than one member of a team requests flexible working at the same time – how would you ‘decide’ on the outcome? Any such factors need to be fair, transparent and not deemed to be discriminatory in any way. Not always an easy feat – depending on your industry and organisational culture.

This brings me to my final point – organisational culture and employee/employer mind-set. The change is coming – in fact it’s practically here, so ensure you are fully prepared. You’ll manage flexible working requests better if the right culture and environment is created where employees can be sure that decisions regarding their requests will be handled fairly and they will not be treated badly because they asked for flexible working arrangements.

ACAS has produced a handy code of practice to provide practical guidance on this area, or you can contact Workplace Law and we will be more than happy to assist.