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Right to request flexible working is extended to all employees

Mon, 30 Jun 2014 | By Nicola Sullivan
The right to request flexible working has been extended to all employees in the UK.

Until today the right has only been available for people who look after children (under 17 or 18 if the child is disabled) or those with other caring responsibilities.

The Department of Business Innovation and Skills said that more than 20m employees could now benefit from the legislation.

Employees have to have worked for their current employer for a minimum of 26 weeks to win the right to request to work flexibly.

As part of the right, employees can expect their request to be “considered in a reasonable manner by employers”, which the department said would be much simpler than the previous decision-making processes businesses had to undergo. However, there are calls for further clarification on the approach.

Phil Handley, operations director at IntaPeople, said: “There might be a degree of doubt as to how requests are considered. What exactly constitutes “consideration in a reasonable manner" by employers? Addressing such uncertainties or inconsistencies might add to concerns about the extra administrative burden placed on small businesses.”

He added: “Some businesses will be more challenged in offering flexible working because of business hours, associated costs and effectively balancing human resources. Furthermore, while morale could be improved in some cases, there will be dangers of a negative impact in less mutually acceptable cases where requests are declined.”

Acas has published a short code of practice to help employers understand the extension to the right and how to process requests. Acas chair Brendan Barber said: “Our experience from working with thousands of employers is that flexible working is both good for business and employees.

“The new code will help employers handle flexible working requests in a reasonable manner and fit their specific circumstances and procedures. We have also produced a good practice guide with practical examples to help employers and businesses consider some of the key issues that may pop up.”
Lynn Rattigan, deputy chief operating officer at EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young), said the firm is “passionate about the business case”, but is concerned about the “cultural challenge” flexible working represents.

She said: “There is still also a real cultural challenge for many businesses around flexible working: to understand that reduced hours doesn’t ever mean less commitment. Organisations need to stop noticing work hours, measuring productivity in presenteeism, and instead focus on outputs. This requires a high-trust workplace environment, leadership from the top and individual accountability. Today’s new rules are a sign of progress, but it’s by no means a case of ‘job done’. Cultural change will inevitably take time.”

Susannah Clements, deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said: “Line managers need to be helped to understand how flexible working options can be incorporated in a way that meets business needs, and to get the best out of more complex, less nine-to-five teams – and HR professionals are well equipped to provide this support.

"Although many organisations already use flexible working, CIPD research reveals that take-up of some forms of flexible working are still very low – potentially limiting the talent pool of workers that firms are able to recruit from. If management skills can be raised sufficiently to maximise the upsides of a more flexible workforce, instead of allowing managers to see the new regulations as a threat, this change can help drive increases in productivity and competitiveness for firms and the wider economy.”

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