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Everyone can ask for flexible hours, so how flexible can you be?

Posted: 2nd July 2014   In: Business Employment

You have two employees both want to work shorter hours, starting late and finishing early. One, a father for school drop offs/pick-ups and his colleague who wants the same flexibility to train for triathlons. What do you do if you can’t agree to both?

Previously, employers only have to consider requests from employees caring for adult dependants, children 16 or under, or disabled children under 18. However, from 30 June 2014 all employees, provided they have 26 weeks’ continuous service, will have the statutory right to request to work flexibly. What does this mean for employers?

Positives?

There is a streamlined process to follow. No rigid time lines. No required meetings. You just have to “reasonably” consider the employee’s written request within a 3 month period. This should reduce the risk of awards of 8 weeks’ pay for getting the process wrong. Employees can only make one request in a 12 month period and any change is permanent. Fundamentally it is still just a right to request. Employers still have 8 business reasons available to them to reject the request.

1. Burden of additional costs;
2. Detrimental effect on customer demand;
3. Inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
4. Inability to recruit additional staff;
5. Detrimental impact on quality;
6. Detrimental impact on performance;
7. Insufficiency of work during periods proposed to work
8. Planned changes.

Negatives?

Don’t be fooled by the simplified process. Depending on the uptake, employers could face an increase in flexible working requests with an increase in administration and management time processing these. You will have to give proper consideration to each one whatever their “merit” or else face employment claims. Disappointed employees alleging favouritism and at worst discrimination, as you are forced to make difficult choices between employees with competing interests. So, who does get to work flexibly the father or the wannabe triathlete when you can’t just give priority to employees with caring responsibilities anymore?

To protect against employment claims we recommend that employers have an updated flexible working process in place and train managers on this. The process should provide for meetings to discuss the employee’s request and any alternatives. This should be fully documented. Stereotypes and value judgements must be avoided and the objective business reasons for rejecting requests recorded so as to maintain consistency and in case of any future dispute.

Some employers by the very nature of their business model can easily accommodate flexible working requests, but your business may find this more difficult. Flexible working is a very live issue as fuelled by social media and employers need to be prepared for this.

We understand the issues for your business and have developed a Flexible Working Policy 2014 which is available free of charge for you to download. You may also wish to visit www.acas.org.uk  for the ACAS Code and Guidance.

There have been a number of recent changes in employment law and now is as good a time as any for employers to review their employment policies and procedures. Machins can also offer a free audit of employee handbooks and contracts. This offer is only available for a limited period. 

Posted by: Jackie Cuneen
Employment
Luton Office