June 30, 2014

Businesses urged to get to grips with new flexible working laws

Businesses are urged to get to grips with new flexible working laws which come into effect today (30 June). Under the new rules, anyone who has worked for their employer for at least six months (26 weeks) now has the right to request flexible working.

“The implications could be significant,” warns Malcolm Gregory, head of Employment law team at Withy King. “Employees looking to improve their work-life balance or better fit their work around their personal interests, are likely to seize the opportunity to apply to change their employment contracts.

“Many organisations already offer flexible working but there are many others that don’t. On the face of it, there will be scope for employers to refuse these requests but there are some issues which may cause businesses legal problems relating to the law on discrimination if they do not consider applications properly.

“As with most new legislation, there may be an initial surge of interest but it is likely to settle down as businesses reassess the implications for their businesses and learn to adopt more flexible ways of working,” said Malcolm.

The employment law team at Withy King has compiled the following checklist to help employers understand the impact of the new laws and any changes which they may need to make to their existing policies:

  • Identify whether there is an existing policy on applications for flexible working and look to update it
  • Check the employee’s eligibility to make a request. They must have 26 weeks’ service and have not made a request in the last 12 months
  • The application can only be to vary the employees’ hours, days or location. It must be made in writing and should explain the possible impact on the business
  • The employer must deal with the application and follow due process within three months, including any appeal
  • Look at the ACAS code on flexible working to help understand what employment tribunals would consider is a reasonable process
  • Watch out for any applications that relate to an employee’s “protected characteristic”, i.e. which might be linked to some kind of discrimination which could make the decision unlawful
  • Understand the eight reasons which a business can give to refuse an application:
    1. the burden of additional costs;
    2. detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
    3. inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
    4. inability to recruit additional staff;
    5. detrimental impact on quality;
    6. detrimental impact on performance;
    7. insufficiency of work during the periods of work proposed; or
    8. planned changes

The Children and Families Act 2014 amends current legislation to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees once they have been with an organisation for six months. The right to request flexible working procedure has also been changed and simplified, making it easier for employees to apply to change the hours or days they work or the locations they work from.

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