What happens on 30 June 2014?
Until recently, anyone with children or caring responsibilities could request the right to flexible working with their employer. However from 30 June 2014, this right will be extended to all UK employees provided that they have been with their employer for at least 26 weeks.
Flexible working will effectively be opened up to the entire UK workforce.
What do employers need to do when faced with a request for flexible working?
The procedure which requires to be adopted by employers is slightly less prescriptive than it was previously. From 30 June, employers will require to deal with the flexible working requests within a reasonable manner. Employers have a three month period within which requests must be determined starting from the date of receipt of the request.
Do employers require to grant these requests?
Employers will require to consider requests and can only reject such requests if they use one of the recognised statutory grounds. These grounds include “the burden of additional costs”, “a detrimental effect on the employer’s ability to meet customer demand” and “an inability to re-organise work amongst existing staff” along with others. If faced with a flexible working request, employers would benefit from taking advice from HR professionals or solicitors so as to avoid falling foul of the legislation.
What are the risks for employers?
An employee can bring a claim to an employment tribunal as a result of an employer’s failure to deal with a request in a reasonable manner, a failure to notify the employee of the decision within the specified period, a failure to rely on one of the statutory grounds for refusal or if the employer bases its decision on incorrect facts or if it incorrectly treats the application as having been withdrawn by the employee.
What action can an employment tribunal take if faced with such a claim?
An employment tribunal can order the employer to re-consider the request or can award compensation which it considers just and equitable up to a maximum of eight weeks’ pay. However if the employee claim is combined with a constructive dismissal or discrimination claim, the compensation which could be awarded by the tribunal could be substantially more than this.
Top tips for employers
- Train managers to recognise and handle flexible working requests – managers may not be aware that the right to request flexible working has been extended.
- Treat such requests consistently – it would be unlawful to look more favourably upon requests from working mothers than working fathers.
- If faced with a difficult decision, consider whether or not a trial period might be possible.
- Provide written reasons for any refusal and keep a paper trail of all requests and decisions.