Flexible working rights extended to all

Posted on 30/06/2014 by

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‘Unfortunately the right to request is only the right to ask nicely’

workersFrom today (30 June 2014) every employee will have the right to request flexible working, giving a boost to workers and to business. Up until now, the right has only been available for carers or people who look after children but this has now been extended to all employees. However trades union leaders say it’s still too easy for employers to say ‘no’.

Today’s extension of the right to request the chance to work flexibly means more than 20 million employees can now benefit.

Flexible working helps people balance their work with responsibilities, keeping more people in long term employment and enabling companies to keep hold of top talent.

It is expected the new right will be of particular interest to older workers who want to work differently as they approach retirement and to young people entering the labour market who may want take up additional training or learning while they work.

As part of the right, employees can expect their request to be considered in a reasonable manner by employers – this will be much simpler than the previous process businesses had to undergo before making a decision.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “Modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale, and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow. It’s about time we brought working practices bang up to date with the needs, and choices, of our modern families.

“Today is a crucial milestone in how we can help people balance their family life with work and caring responsibilities. And from next year, Shared Parental Leave will allow mums and dads to be able to choose how they care for their new-born in those first precious months.”

Business Minister Jo Swinson said: “Extending the right to request flexible working will help to create a cultural shift towards more modern, 21st century workplaces where working flexibly is the norm.”

Firms that embrace flexible working are more likely to attract and retain the best talent and reap the benefits of a more motivated workforce. Employees will benefit from being able to balance work with other commitments in their lives. It also helps drive a cultural shift where flexible working becomes the norm.”

Businesses have reported benefits to their firms in allowing staff to adopt more flexible working practices. This includes more than half reporting an improvement in their relationship with their employees and staff motivation, 40% reporting a boost in productivity and 38% seeing a drop in staff absence.

Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has published a short code of practice to help employers understand the extension to the right and how to process requests.

Acas Chair Brendan Barber said: “Our experience from working with thousands of employers is that flexible working is both good for business and employees.

“The new Code will help employers handle flexible working requests in a reasonable manner and fit their specific circumstances and procedures. We have also produced a good practice guide with practical examples to help employers and businesses consider some of the key issues that may pop up.”

Susannah Clements, Deputy Chief Executive at CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel andDevelopment), said: “The extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees is recognition of its growing importance to both employers and individuals. Employers increasingly recognise the strong business case for flexible working, including enhanced employee engagement and the attraction and retention of a more diverse workforce.

“Flexible working can also help meet the demand from an increasingly multi-generational workforce. Many younger workers are seeking greater work-life balance, while those looking after ageing parents or relatives are also requiring more flexibility to manage their caring responsibilities. At the same time, older workers are demanding more flexible routes into retirement, looking to work fewer hours rather than seeing retirement as a “full stop” to their working lives.

“The new accompanying code of practice, which encourages employers to deal with flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable manner’, will help assuage the concerns some employers have about managing flexible workers.”

The Government has forecast 182,000 requests per year, with the new right accounting for 81,000 of the new requests. Of these, it expects 144,000 to be granted – 64,000 of which would be employees taking advantage of the extension of the right.

Employers can still turn down a request for flexible working, however. Valid reasons for turning down a request are:

  • burden of additional costs
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • inability to recruit additional staff
  • detrimental impact on quality
  • detrimental impact on performance
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • planned structural changes

So while welcoming the new right for helping make it easier for all employees to better balance their work and home lives, the TUC is concerned that it is still too easy for employers to say no to any requests they receive.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s not just parents and carers who can benefit from flexible working. This sensible and modern approach to work is something that can improve the lives of everyone.

“Now, thanks to this long overdue change in the law, employees of all ages will be able to ask their boss to alter the way they work, regardless of whether they have dependents or caring responsibilities.

“If they have an employer who gets why flexible working makes sense, workers who want to take time out to train, volunteer in a local community project, or simply avoid travelling at rush hour will now be able to transform their lives.

“But those with old-fashioned bosses who expect all staff to stick to the same rigid hours day in day out and always be in the office won’t be so lucky. Employers will still find it all too easy to block any requests for greater flexibility.

“Unfortunately the right to request is only the right to ask nicely. There is nothing to stop employers saying no. Of course not everyone in every company or organisation is able to work flexibly – some requests will always need to be turned down. But without the right to challenge employers, many workers will continue to lose out.”

Acas has published new advice and guidance for employers to help them consider requests. The advice can be found on their website http://www.acas.org.uk/flexible

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