A guide for employers on flexible working

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On our sister site AccountingWEB.co.uk, Liz Iles outlines the key legislative and cultural points employers should bear in mind when offering flexible working arrangements to staff. The regulations outlined below are specific to the UK; however the concept of allowing employees to work from home is an interesting one ­– regardless of the country.

The move towards flexible working has been an increasingly important issue for HR in recent years, driven by a number of different factors.
There has been a push to increase diversity among the workforce as some groups of workers have traditionally been disadvantaged and may require certain arrangements to suit their working needs, including those with family responsibilities or disabilities. Demographic changes have also been an influence, with stay-at-home mums becoming a rarity and the workforce getting older.
Part of the debate about flexibility has also been fuelled by ongoing discussions around the need for employees to balance their home and work needs. By offering flexible working practices, employers will not only be giving employees an opportunity to work that may not have otherwise been possible, but they’ll be able to attract a more diverse and talented workforce.
Other advantages for the employer include greater cost effectiveness and efficiency as they could save on overheads where employees are working from home, and higher levels of job satisfaction, resulting in lower absenteeism and increased productivity.
What duties are imposed on employers?
The Statutory Right to Request Flexible Working came into force for parents of children aged six and under on 6 April 2003. This was extended to parents of children aged 16 and under and to adults with caring responsibilities on 6 April 2007.
Employers need to ensure their employees are aware of the following:
1. Conditions of the Right to Request Flexible Working
To qualify for the right to request, employees must have continuous service of 26 weeks and either have responsibility for a child aged 16 or under (18 if the child is disabled) or be the carer of an adult aged 18 or over. Employees do not have automatic rights to work flexibly, instead only qualify to request for flexible working. Employers then have a duty to give serious considerations to these requests.
2. Types of flexible working included
Those who qualify are entitled to ask for a change in their terms and conditions of employment, including the number of hours they work, the times they are required to work and their location. This could include requests for flexi-time, job sharing, part-time working, home working, shift working, annualised hours, etc.
3. How to submit an application
An employee must apply to the employer in writing. If made in relation to a child, the application must be proposed before the child’s 17th birthday (or 18th if disabled). It must also be dated, specify that it’s made under the right to request flexible working and explain how the employee’s relationship with the child or person being cared for meets the qualifying conditions. Employees must also outline details of the proposed change and when it would ideally come into effect, explaining the effects it is likely to have on the employer and suggest how it can be dealt with. If a previous application has been made, employees must specify this.
4. Employer procedure
An employer that receives a request has a duty to give it serious consideration and follow a set procedure:
  • Within 28 days of receiving an application, the employer must hold a meeting with the employee to discuss it. If sent by post, it will be considered the day on which the letter is received. And if the person who considers the application is on leave, the 28 day period may be extended.
  • At the meeting the employee has the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker. They may address the meeting and confer with the employee during the proceeding but cannot answer questions on the employee’s behalf.
  • Within 14 days of the meeting, the employer must write to the employee with a decision. If the proposal is accepted, the employer must set out the new work pattern and when it will take effect.
  • If the employer refuses the request, the letter must give reasons why, which could include the burden of additional costs, inability to reorganise work among existing staff, a detrimental impact on performance and quality or an inability to recruit additional staff.
  • The letter must also state the appeal procedure.
5. Terms and conditions
Any flexible working practices will be a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment, unless otherwise agreed. Employees have no right to revert to their original working arrangement, and similarly, employers have no statutory right to require the employee to revert to their previous working pattern.

In the future, working hours will more likely become a negotiable feature of many employment contracts. Employees have more rights to demand flexible hours and greater expectations to exercise those rights to fit into other interests and responsibilities. The challenge for employers is to accommodate the needs of the workforce without sacrificing effective management and business growth.

Liz Iles is a senior employment consultant at Croner.

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