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Flexible working extension: How will it affect you?


Work-life balanceThis April could see many more employees asking to work flexibly, when parents of children aged up to 16 will be given the right to request flexible working. Amy Fielding explains how this extension will affect employers.

On 1 April 2009, the government is intending to extend the right to request flexible working hours for parents with children up to the age of 16. This follows the publication of further consultation on the extension on 26 August 2008.

“This extension of working parents’ rights could result in a quarter of a million employees changing their working hours.”

At this time, the proposals are continuing through the government’s legislative process but it has been confirmed that they intend to issue full guidance in good time to ensure that all businesses will be able to prepare for the change, as it is believed that this extension of working parents’ rights could result in a quarter of a million employees changing their working hours. It is likely that any future requests will follow the same procedure as the current legislation.

Since April 2003, parents of children who are six and under have had the right to apply for flexible working hours by following a specific procedure. Any parent making such a request must follow the procedure set out below:

  • That it is made as a request for flexible working, which should be submitted in writing (by letter, email or prescribed application form)

  • That it should state that their child is under the prescribed age (6 or under, 16 after the 1 April 2009)

  • That it specify the change in hours and form what date the change would be effective

  • That it explain what effect the change may have on their work and how this might be dealt with

The employer can agree to any such request immediately but they have no obligation to do so. A meeting could be arranged and should be held within 28 days of receipt of the initial application.

In terms of the grounds on which an employer can refuse any such application, these are prescribed in current legislation and provide an employer with an extremely wide scope for any refusal. These grounds are as follows:

  • The burden of additional costs

  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand

  • Inability to re-organise work among existing staff

  • Inability to recruit additional staff

  • Detrimental impact on quality

  • Detrimental impact on performance

  • Insufficiency to work during the periods the employee proposes to work

  • Planned structural changes

Objections should be made on business grounds and not due to any employees personal circumstances. Should any person believe that their request has been unreasonably refused they may have the basis for a tribunal claim and they should seek legal advice immediately.

The proposed amendments to current legislation are likely to cause all employers genuine concern and could result in the incorporation of innovative new work patterns in the workplace to manage such requests.

In essence, these requests could be made from the majority of the workforce. Employers will need to consider whether earlier starting or later finishing hours may be possible or the option for an employee’s hours being spread over more days than previously. Furthermore, whether any request is permanent should also be considered, as a parent may only require a change to their hours for a fixed period of time. The types of alteration that employers may wish to consider, or a combination of these options, are as follows:

  • Part-time – less hours and working fewer days

  • Flexi-time – usually set compulsory hours with options to start early or finish early dependant on the employees needs

  • Compressed hours – working same weekly hours but on less days

  • Annualised hours – set working shifts but then all other hours worked when the employee wants

  • Home working – employees being permitted periods of time or hours that they can work from home

  • Job sharing – one employees job is split between two employees to allow each to have less hours

“In the current economic climate, employers could suggest to their workforce that requests for flexible working are welcomed.”

Managed correctly, any change to flexible hours can work to the benefit of both the employer and the employee. In the current economic climate, where businesses may be considering reducing their workforce, employers could suggest to their workforce that requests for flexible working are welcomed. A few employees agreeing to this – and employers granting these requests – could save the loss of other jobs which would otherwise be redundant, as it would allow employers to decrease the hours of willing employees, which could result in saving costs without the need for redundancy. Employees who require flexible working should highlight that this option could save their employer outgoings and prevent the need for redundancies.

Due to this extension to request flexible working hours, employers will face considerably more requests. Not only may they wish to consider the above options for altering the working week structure for employees, they will also need to keep in mind that whatever working pattern is agreed they must still comply with the current legislation for their employee. Namely, that any flexibility that is considered must be in keeping with the following rules:

  • Rest breaks – for over 6 hours or more then an employee is entitled to a 20 minute break, provided that they are over 18. Those aged between 16-18 are entitled to a 30 minute break. This must be taken in one block and cannot be the start or end of the day. It can be taken away from the premises and when it is taken can be dictated by the employer

  • Daily rest – an employee should have at least 11 hours rest between two days working. This is important to note where an employee may work late and early shifts

  • Weekly rest – in a working week you have the right to at least 24 hours clear rest or 48 hours in a working fortnight

Flexibility towards working parents promotes loyalty, encourages productivity and prevents a high turnover of staff. At the same time, parents feel security from an adaptable employer and can be assured that they will be able to continue to work around the needs of their family.

Amy Fielding is an employment specialist at Vincents Solicitors, a leading legal practice with five office locations in the north-west of England.

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