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The Future Of Flexible Working

Businesses Can't Afford To Be Complacent


A leading Sheffield based employment expert at Irwin Mitchell has warned businesses against complacency in relation to dealing with staff requests for flexible working - despite the low number of related cases being successful at tribunal.

Recently published figures concerning the number of employment tribunals revealed that out of the 218,000 claims accepted in 2010/11, just 277 alleged that employers had failed to consider a request for flexible working seriously. Out of this number, only 10 were successful at tribunal.

According to Liesel Whitfield at the Sheffield office of national law firm, Irwin Mitchell, businesses need to ensure that they keep an eye on future developments as the number of requests are likely to increase significantly.

She said: “There was widespread concern that laws allowing employees to request flexible working patterns would be difficult to manage, be too costly and affect staff productivity. The reality is that many companies have adapted quickly and have enjoyed being able to retain workers for longer and reduce recruitment and training costs as a result. This has been echoed by CBI research which found that 63% of the firms offering flexible working reported lower staff turnover.
“It is vital that business leaders however keep a close eye on the future as the Government has committed itself to extending flexible working rights - something which was reiterated by Vince Cable’s employment law reform speech at the end of November.”

Currently, parents of a child under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled), or adults who care for a spouse, civil partner, relative or someone who lives with them, may request a variation to their contract if they have at least 26 weeks continuous service, so that they can work more flexibly. Employers have a duty to consider requests seriously and can only turn them down on a number of grounds, such as if the burden of additional costs is too high or if the new patterns have a detrimental effect on the firm’s ability to meet customer demand.

Liesel added: “Although many of these and future planned changes relate to further supporting an individual’s family life, it is not inconceivable that the law could change again in the future as a result of changing demographics and the ageing population.

“With the abolishment of the default retirement age, we could see future legislation which allows for requests from workers in their 60s and 70s who wish to alter their working pattern in order to match their lifestyle and physical capability.

“Strides forward in technology and increased wireless connectivity has made the ‘virtual office’ a reality for many. This certainly falls under the ‘flexible working’ banner and it’s important that organisations, if they haven’t done so already, ensure that they have agreed guidelines in terms of expected performance from individuals whilst away from the office.

“Businesses in the region have adjusted admirably to flexible working requests, but it is important for company bosses to realise that these changes are just the tip of the iceberg.”