Flexible working rights extended to all employees

At the end of last month the UK government announced that from June 30 every employee in the UK would have the right to request flexible working. Previously, this right consider only applied to parents with children under 17 and certain carers.

Under the new rules, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that some 20 million individuals will have the right to ask to work flexibly and employers will have a legal obligation to consider every request in a reasonable manner.

The government has forecast 182,000 requests per year, with 81,000 of these as a result of the new right. It is also forecast that businesses will realise £55.8 million of annual benefits, outweighing the £39.8 million cost to firms. Reduced levels of stress, lower staff turnover and increased morale are all thought to be afforded by the new rules.

But what does this mean in practice for both individuals and businesses alike?

What is flexible working?

Quite simply, flexible working is when an agreed change is made to an employee’s working pattern. In reality, this could potentially take many different forms, with the most common being flexitime, part-time work, job sharing, home working and changes to working hours.

It is thought that the new rules will appeal particularly to older workers approaching retirement and young people who are keen to undertake additional training or learning in a new employment position.

Who is eligible to apply?

Every employee with at least 26 weeks (six months) continuous service with their employer can apply for flexible working. This process is known as ‘making a statutory application.’

However, it should be noted that not all applications will be approved and the new rules simply give all employees the right to apply for flexible working.

Why might an application be declined?

If an employer declines a flexible working application it must be for one of the following business reasons:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to your business

These eight reasons have not changed and are the same reasons under which a flexible working application could be refused under the previous rules.

How will applications be dealt with?

The new law states that every flexible working application must be reviewed in a ‘reasonable manner’ by the employer. This will inevitably involve a face-to-face meeting between the employee and the employer where the request for flexible working will be discussed.

Employers must notify their employees of their decision as soon as possible and, unless agreed otherwise with the employee, within three months. Any applications that are declined must include a clear business case and cite at least one of the eight reasons listed above.

Furthermore, all flexible working applications will have to be dealt with by employers on a first-come first-serve basis. Where a conflict occurs, businesses are advised by the government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to discuss the situation with the relevant employees and try to reach a compromise. If a compromise cannot be reached then employers are entitled to propose a method of random selection.

Over the last few years we have seen increased absence due to stress and one of the possible solutions to this has been to suggest that a flexible approach to working hours be adopted. By taking a compassionate stance it may allow employees to strike up a work / life balance which could reduce incidences of sickness absence.