Posted on 30 May 2014
From 30th June the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees as long as they have at least 26 weeks' continuous employment (currently only parents and carers have the right to do so).
“Flexible working” can take a number of forms - reducing hours of work, changing work patterns, entering into a job share arrangement, working from home, etc. The statutory process that currently exists will continue, which means that in order to make an application for flexible working, the employee needs to explain what effect, if any, the change requested would have on the employer and how they believe it could best be dealt with. For example, if requesting part-time hours, they could identify that there will be a lack of cover on the days they would not work and suggest that this could be dealt with by recruiting another part-time employee to cover those hours.
The statutory process requires the employer to meet with the employee to discuss their request in a timely manner (unless they are happy to make the change requested). If the employer feels they may not be able to accommodate the requested change, they should explore any potential compromises. The employer should inform the employee of their decision as soon as possible; it is advisable for this to be in writing.
However, many of the procedural requirements have been removed by the new legislation - the prescriptive timetable, the statutory right to be accompanied at meetings, and the right to an appeal. Instead the employer needs to "...deal with the application in a reasonable manner" and to ensure that whatever process they follow, it is completed within three months of receipt of the application (including any appeal if granted by the employer). However, in order to demonstrate reasonableness, it is sensible to retain some of the previous statutory provisions in an internal procedure and a new ACAS Code of Practice recommends that you do so.
Best practice still would suggest, therefore, that you continue to allow the employee to be accompanied by a work colleague at any meetings and have the right to appeal if their request is rejected.
It is important too that the reason for turning down a request is made clear in writing and that the reason given falls within one of the following categories:
the burden of additional costs
an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
an inability to recruit additional staff
a detrimental impact on quality
a detrimental impact on performance
detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
a planned structural change to the business
Any agreed change is normally permanent, unless the employer and employee agree a temporary arrangement or a trial period. Employees may only make one statutory request for flexible working in any 12 month period.