Advice for employers over new flexible working rules
Thousands of parents across Yorkshire are set to benefit from new rules surrounding flexible working.
Local businesses should act now so that they are prepared for the changes in legislation, according to Simon Coates a leading Leeds employment lawyer at Irwin Mitchell.
Over six million people already benefit from a statutory right to request a change in their terms of employment to accommodate flexible working, and this imminent extension to the legislation will see a further four and a half million become potentially eligible (Department for Business and Regulatory Reform figures).
Currently, employers are legally required to consider requests for flexible working from employees who have continually worked for the company (not through an agency) for at least 26 weeks and who are responsible for the upbringing of a child under the age of six, or under 18 if that child is disabled. This right to request flexible working also includes employees who have caring responsibilities for certain adults.
From 6 April 2009, the right to request flexible working will be extended to parents who wish to change their working hours to care for a child up to and including the age of 16.
Simon Coates partner and employment law specialist at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds said: “It’s fundamental that businesses in the region understand exactly how this new law may affect their daily operations and, if handled correctly, the positive effect it could have on their staff and their company.
"There is currently a huge gap that exists for parents with children between the ages of six to seventeen. These new rules will make childcare arrangements for millions of parents of school age children much easier to manage and will change the way thousands of people work."
Flexible working patterns can be offered in several different ways and can include the reduction or variation of working hours, a reduction in the number of days worked each week or the option of working from home.
Once an employer receives a written request they have 28 days to respond, in which time they must meet with the employee to discuss their proposal and then give them an answer within a further two weeks. If the application is refused the employee has the right to request an appeal hearing.
It should be remembered that the right is to request flexible working and is not a right to have the request accepted. Employers can refuse an employee’s application on recognised business grounds, which include, the burden of additional costs on the business, an inability to re-organise work amongst existing staff or an inability to recruit additional staff to accommodate the desired change.
However, employers need to be aware that failure to properly follow the statutory procedure could lead to an Employment Tribunal awarding a payment of compensation of up to eight weeks’ pay to the affected employee.
Simon Coates added: “We advise that employers seriously consider each application on its individual merits and only reject it if there are clearly justifiable business reasons. The focus should be on evaluating the new arrangements to find which ones the company is able to realistically accommodate.
"A trial period is often a good way to establish this and will help both parties to check if it is mutually beneficial. It is then advisable for the changes to be reflected in the individual’s contract of employment - it must address their actual working practices as there may be new health and safety considerations, for example in the case of home-working or new IT arrangements."We urge companies to recognise that family-friendly policies such as flexible working can be extremely beneficial to both parties and will often make good business sense as they can reduce overheads and increase productivity and morale. They could even be the deciding factor of whether an individual stays with a firm. Within the current economic climate it is likely that companies will be looking to talent manage and therefore retaining key individuals by agreeing to more flexible working may well be crucial."