2014 sees new legislation in the UK to extend the right to request flexible working from carers to all eligible employees.
Currently the right to request flexible working is limited to carers of children under 18 and those who care for adult dependents.
In 2014, new laws will permit any employee with over 26 weeks’ service to make an application to their employer to work flexibly for any reason. The Government hopes it will encourage more employees to be able to work around their civic responsibilities but an employee can make the request for any reason.
Dealing with the requests
An employer may reject a flexible working request, having reflected on the viability of the request as well as the likely risk of a potential sex discrimination claim or a breach of the UK’s flexible working legislation.
Following receipt of a flexible working request, an employer must currently follow a tight 28 day timeframe in which to consider the request, meet with the employee. This is followed by 14 days in which to make a decision.
From next year, employers need only respond to the requests in a "reasonable manner" and within a "reasonable" period of time. Whilst seemingly helpful for employers, it does introduce uncertainty by comparison with the current regime and this may result in more (and not less) litigation.
Against the backdrop of a potential sex and disability discrimination claim from some groups of employees, value judgments will inevitably be made by employers should they receive competing flexible working requests from team members.
As the European Parental Leave Directive 2010 confers the right to request flexible working to parents returning from parental leave, employers need to consider giving priority to some classes of employees over others. However, this is not the UK Government’s intention – they do not want any prioritisation as they consider it will reinforce the view that flexible working is primarily for parents and carers.
Commentary and strategy
UK employers are starting to focus on their flexible working policies and strategies in advance of the changes in 2014.
Organisations that have implemented flexible working across its workforce report higher levels of productivity, improved retention rates, long term costs savings (due to the need for less office space), lucrative opportunities to test and move into new markets and improved employee engagement.
As a result, some employers are considering making changes to their business model in the imminent future. This could entail consideration of the following concerns, all of which Abbiss Cadres can assist:
- the employment law implications;
- the most effective method in which to communicate the change to staff;
- how best to manage any barriers to change; and
- whether the appropriate models are in place to ensure and constantly monitor success.
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