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What the experts said: Flexible working and the new Acas Code


What the experts saidToday, 6 April, sees two major employment law amendments come into force – the extension to the right to request flexible working and the new Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. The changes have got many experts talking and this is what they said.

Extension to the right to request flexible working

On 6 April 2009, the right to request flexible working is extended to parents of children up to the age of 16. Before this, only parents of children up to the age of six, or disabled children aged up to 18, could request flexible working, but the new regulations will extend the flexibility working policy to an additional 4.5 million workers. This is what the experts said:

Gillian Nissim, founder of
“We would like to see the right to request flexible working being opened up to all employees, rather than limited to parents and carers. We feel that this would break down the barriers between parents and other employees and remove any stigma that might be associated with flexible working. Once employers have fully embraced new and more flexible ways of working they will see the advantages, not just in terms of retaining and motivating staff, but in terms of improved efficiency and productivity.”

“The business benefits of flexible working are well documented and this remains the case in tougher economic times.”

Pat McFadden, employment relations minister

Employment relations minister Pat McFadden:
“Flexible working has been a great success. The change we are bringing in this month is about helping parents cope with work and family life. Both workers and employers have felt the benefits of flexible working since we first introduced the right to request. Firms can still say no if they have legitimate business concerns, but more than 95% of all requests for flexible working from working parents and carers are now accepted, as employers recognise the benefits more and more.

“Parenting doesn’t end as children get older. Extending the right to request will help more parents get the flexibility they need. The business benefits of flexible working are well documented and this remains the case in tougher economic times.”

Stephen Beynon, managing director at ntl:Telewest Business:
“Flexible working can actually help reduce costs and improve employee productivity. Giving employees the opportunity to work on a flexible basis is cost effective to set up and has added benefits such as supporting business continuity planning. Just like the markets that they operate in, businesses are no longer static. Their business models must reflect this. Forward looking businesses will see this as an opportunity rather than a burden.”

Mark Hutchinson, managing director at Telindus:
“This latest piece of legislation is likely to be the tipping point that takes flexible working mainstream. However, implementing a flexible working policy, or even extending policies that are already in place, isn’t as easy as it might seem. The implications for organisations in terms of both man management and technical requirements are huge.”

Kathleen Healy, partner in the employment, pensions and benefits practice at Freshfields:
“Unless it is managed properly, it could cause a major headache for employers, who need to ensure that requests are managed fairly, and that decisions are based on objective business grounds. Otherwise employers risk tribunal claims. Existing flexible working policies should be reviewed and updated and employees told about any changes.”

Oliver Chivers, head of business marketing at T-Mobile:
“The extension of the flexible working law is a welcome development for the UK workforce. Some business groups have expressed concern about introducing this legislation in a recession. However, the opposite is the case. We’re actually at an ideal juncture to take positive steps to boost morale and frame flexible working as an effective way to derive greater business productivity, not less.”

Sarah Williams-Gardener, director of Opportunity Now:
“Opportunity Now welcomes the extension of the right to request flexible working and applauds the government’s progressive approach to workplace practices. The broadening of existing legislation, to accommodate parents of children up to and including the age of sixteen, is a positive step on the path to equality in the workplace and will benefit both families and businesses alike.”

Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures

From 6 April, amendments to the Employment Act 2008 will see the introduction of a simplified system of dealing with workplace problems, particularly discipline and grievance issues. This is what the experts had to say:

Pat McFadden, minister for employment relations:
“We have changed the rules so that employers and employees will have greater flexibility to deal with grievances and disciplinary issues at work at the earliest opportunity. Acas’ expanded helpline and conciliation services will play a key role in delivering this. Employees and employers will be able to call the Acas helpline for impartial and confidential advice on the options available for resolving workplace problems. They will also be able to access a free early conciliation service for certain types of cases, with the aim to reduce the need for people to enter into full tribunal procedures.”

John Taylor, Acas chief executive:
“These changes will give businesses more flexibility when dealing with workplace problems. Often a quiet word at the early stage of a problem is all that is required to ‘nip things in the bud’. This should help improve relationships between managers and employees: cutting down disputes whilst saving time, money and stress for all concerned.”

Guy Guinan, employment partner at national law firm Halliwells:
“The new Code will be a double-edged sword for employers. It will no longer require employees to submit grievances before bringing tribunal claims, meaning that employers may have to deal with claims out of the blue, or ‘nuisance value’ claims in the hope that companies will settle in order to avoid the high costs involved.”

“I am optimistic that employers will benefit from greater opportunities to resolve disputes in the workplace before they escalate to the point where they end up in an employment tribunal.”

Ben Wilmott, CIPD

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber:
“It is always best if employers, employees and their union representatives can fairly resolve problems in the workplace. These new dispute resolution arrangements rightly focus attention back on internal grievance and disciplinary procedures.”

Katja Hall, employment policy director at the CBI:
“CBI members attached great importance to this review and are pleased that the new regulations place substance rather than procedure back at the heart of resolving workplace disputes. This, and the focus on addressing problems at work early, will increase the number of workers who stay in their jobs, have a positive impact on industrial relations and can reduce costs for all parties.”

Ben Wilmott, senior public policy adviser at the CIPD:
“As a result of these changes, I am optimistic that employers will benefit from greater opportunities to resolve disputes in the workplace before they escalate to the point where they end up in an employment tribunal.”

Martin Warren, head of employment law at Eversheds:
“The new Code provides greater flexibility to address the range of situations that can arise – it is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution – and this will bring benefits for employers and employees. However, as with any rule change, it is important that employers adapt to the new regime. Failing to do so could lead to a rise in claims for unfair dismissal and higher compensation awards for claimants.”

For a more detailed guide to all the new employment law regulations in force this month, see our comprehensive round-up.

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