New flexible working rights will be evolutionary, not revolutionary, says The Wilkes Partnership…
Changes to the right to request flexible working – open to all employees for the first time from 30 June 2014 – is not likely to see businesses suddenly inundated with huge numbers of claims, according to employment lawyers at Birmingham and Solihull law firm, The Wilkes Partnership. But it is crucial that employers understand the changes and are prepared for them.
The new right, which is currently only available to those with certain parental or carer responsibilities, will see all employees given the statutory right to request flexible working, as long as they have completed 26 weeks’ continuous service at the time of the claim. Employers will be required to deal with each request in a ‘reasonable manner’, before deciding whether to accept or reject it.
Pam Sidhu, head of employment law at The Wilkes Partnership, comments:
“The ramifications for businesses are likely to be significant, although the jury is largely out at the moment as to whether the change is to be welcomed or not, particularly for smaller businesses with concerns over more red tape from Government. Grandparents and volunteers may be the first groups to take advantage of the new right, and possibly individuals who want to combine hobbies or other outside interests with work.
“We would expect the impact on employers to be gradual, rather than immediate. That said, employers still need to ensure they are fully prepared for an increase in requests after 30 June, and that they understand what is meant by dealing with a request in a ‘reasonable manner’. Although this may seem quite vague, Acas has published guidance on how to handle requests in a reasonable manner, which gives some indication of what this means. It also outlines the eight potential business reasons an employer must rely on for rejecting a claim; these include inability to reorganise work among existing staff, inability to recruit additional staff, and detrimental impact on meeting customer demand. We would urge employers to seek advice if it is not clear what is required of them. There are likely to be complications around how to deal with multiple or competing flexible working requests.
“Businesses need to amend their flexible working policies to reflect the change and will need to consider the impact and the available capacity within their business for potential claimants. In terms of dealing with multiple requests – consistency will be the key – employers must have a clear method for dealing with claims and stick to it.”
According to The Wilkes Partnership, small businesses are likely to feel the biggest impact from the changes. Pam Sidhu continues:
“The issue for SMEs will be the additional red tape the changes will bring. They will have to follow a formal procedure, including the Acas code of practice, rather than having informal agreements with employees who, until 30 June, were not covered by the new right. And naturally, the impact on their business of having several employees working flexibly will be greater than for a larger business, but there are still mechanisms in place that allow a claim to be rejected if it is detrimental to the business. So long as the employer has explained which of the eight business grounds it is relying on in the legislation to reject a request, an employment tribunal will not usually enquire into the rights and wrongs of the refusal, only look at the procedure that was followed.
“That said, these changes should also be seen as a positive – they should help reduce sickness leave, help retain talented people and increase loyalty. It is worth noting that the right is not for flexible work, only the right to request it. As long as businesses are prepared, the long term impact will be incremental and a positive thing for both the employer and employee.”
For more information on The Wilkes Partnership, go to www.wilkes.co.uk.
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