• Employers are planning now for expected changes to the right to request flexible work. Employees’ rights have expanded considerably since they were first introduced and the next stage of development is anticipated in the summer of 2014.

    When the right to request flexible work arrangements was first introduced it was limited to carers of children under the age of six (or disabled children under the age of 18) although even at this early stage it was clear an expansion of rights was anticipated. The right was later extended to include individuals caring for adults and then to those caring for older children.

    From June 2014 all employees who have 26 weeks’ continuous employment with the same employer will be able to ask for flexible work and a simplified procedure for making a request will be introduced.*

    The new arrangements rather, than requiring an employer to follow a strict timetable will instead mean that an employer has a duty to act reasonably and within a reasonable time period. The changes will be supported by a new statutory code of practice and best practice guide produced by ACAS (the conciliation service). Tribunals will take into account the ACAS code when considering complaints brought by employees.

    When first introduced, the right to request flexible work was not well received by employers, many of whom expressed concern that large numbers of employees would apply and that it would be difficult to refuse a request.

    Flexible work requests can include a change in hours or times of work, a change in location (for example working from home) annualised hours, compressed hours, flexi-time, job-sharing and term-time working but despite initial fears the numbers of claims brought against employers has been comparatively low.

    Despite initial concerns it is worth keeping in mind that the new procedure, like the old arrangements does not give employees a right to insist on flexible or part-time work. It simply provides a framework within which employers have to consider requests from eligible employees. Employers are still able to refuse requests (or suggest alternative arrangements) where they have good business reasons.

    Currently, requests can be refused because of additional costs, a negative impact on customer service, performance or quality, the inability to re-organise work amongst existing staff (or to recruit additional staff for example for a job share) or other planned changes. In the future employers will be expected to weigh the benefits of the requested changes for the employee and the employer against any “adverse business impact”.

    Although when the forthcoming changes were discussed it was suggested that an employer “should always approach requests to work flexibly from the presumption that [it would] grant them unless there is a business reason for not doing so” this guidance is not expected to be included in the ACAS code. Employers will therefore still be able to make essential decisions for the good of their organisation.

    Although the right to request does not currently extend to all employees some employers have already chosen to extend this right for their employees. In general favourable outcomes have been reported in terms of staff retention and morale. Larger or less specialised employers may find offering flexible working arrangements easier but even smaller employers may find that there are business advantages to a more flexible workforce not just in encouraging happier employees but also in managing overheads and ensuring there is a broader skills base within an organisation.

    Now is the time to plan for changes and many employers are considering how flexible work arrangements may support the continued success of their businesses.

    If you would like to discuss changes to flexible work arrangements, requests for flexible work or how to introduce effective policies and procedures then please contact Catherine Daw, the Head of the Brachers’ Employment and HR Team.

    *Not more than 1 request in 12 months. The introduction to the Code includes reminders that an employee can only make one statutory request in any 12 month period.

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