Survey Finds Small Businesses Ignoring Flexible Working Laws

Companies At Risk Of Legal Action Over Regulations


Fergal Dowling, Partner | +44 (0)121 214 5476

Around a third of small businesses are failing to comply with new flexible working rules, a study has found.
The Sage UK poll found that one in ten small firms were not even aware of the new rules, which came into effect at the end of June.

Under the regulations, millions of workers who previously did not have the right to request flexible hours can now do so. This does not mean employers are bound to grant this, but any refusal would have to be based on sound business reasons, such as an inability to meet customer demand at certain times due to a lack of staff in work.

While the study found 26 per cent of small companies already offered such flexibility, the failure of the rest to comply with the regulations - either deliberately or through lack of awareness - could land many of them in hot water.

Head of technology at Sage UK's small and medium business division Rob Davis said: "Small businesses need to make sure they’re set up to provide flexible working should their employees request it. Being not so flexible is no longer an option, this [is] a legislative directive and it cannot be ignored.

"But what this research shows is the need for small businesses to get their house in order to avoid being punished by an employment tribunal."

Far from being a burden, offering flexible working can produce "immense benefits" for businesses, he emphasised.

Under the new rules, staff must have been with an employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible to submit a flexible working request.

The Acas code of practice drawn up for the process of handling such applications states they should be handled by employers in a "reasonable manner". That will involve weighing up the pros and cons of each and every application, having a meeting with an employee to discuss the matter and providing an appeal process in the event of a request being turned down.

Failures to comply with this code can lead to employers being taken to a tribunal.

Expert Opinion
The world of work has changed significantly in the 21st century, with innovations and the evolution of technology meaning that workers can enjoy a greater level of flexibility than ever before.

"It is vital that businesses of all sizes are aware and understand the legislation which exists in relation to flexible working, as many current and prospective employees will be keen to take up such opportunities and enjoy a different approach to working.

"Employers should also not ignore the potential benefits of offering such practices, as it can do much to boost staff retention and motivation – meaning that high-performing and talented members of staff could be prevented from considering a move elsewhere."
Fergal Dowling, Partner