A fine time to build a flexible workplace

Adelle Morris, (pictured, left) an employment lawyer with Grigor & Young in Elgin, hails the extension of flexible working as a benefit for all – provided the guidelines for employee and employers are clear.

The right to request flexible working is crucial to many carers who look after young children, disabled people and adults in care. It can be extremely difficult to juggle a full-time or part-time job and then arrange care and manage appointments for disabled or elderly people. It’s been a simple and acceptable principle that employees can request changes to their working hours to undertake the care of others.

The UK government’s Consultation on Modern Workplaces extended those rights beyond carers to all other employees who can request flexible working from 30 June 2014 in the Children and Families Act 2014.

Such changes will hugely simplify the current statutory procedure. The existing obligations on employers are strict and leave room for error and potential claims against employers by disgruntled employees, so a simplified procedure should be beneficial for employers generally.

One difficulty I can immediately foresee will be the age-old legal question of what is ‘reasonable’ in terms of the employer’s statutory duty to deal with requests ‘reasonably’? In the absence of a statutory definition, which would be handy, Acas have issued a final draft statutory code of practice and a Good Practice Guide which employers will have access to. The code will have statutory force and will be taken into account by Employment Tribunals when considering relevant claims.

Check these out on the acas website at acas.org.uk.

While the new procedures will be less prescriptive than the existing one, I would still advise employers to have a flexible working policy in place (or make sure their existing policy is amended to reflect the changes). This will ensure that both the employee and the employer will be clear on the procedure that should be followed and any time limits that should be adhered to e.g. the employee should be notified of the outcome within the three-month decision period.

Generally, I think opening up flexible working requests to all employees and not only those in a ‘carer’ capacity is an excellent example of the government attempting to modernise employment law. I think this is a reflection of the modern workplace where employers are becoming more open to facilitating flexible working to retain good employees and attract new employees. With the advancement of technologies, more and more employees will undoubtedly be expecting their employer to provide flexible working. There will of course be some industries where flexible working will simply not be practicable (perhaps not yet) but giving employees the right to request it is a good start.

It is anticipated that the new procedure will result in an increase in flexible working requests but I think this is offset against the simplified procedure and the relaxed time limits, creating less of a burden on employers. I think increased flexible working requests will be inevitable so employers should prepare by reviewing their technologies, their business and staffing needs and their policies (including IT / social media) in advance of the new laws.
As a part-time worker myself, I can vouch for the benefits of flexible working and believe it can enhance motivation, ensure loyalty and on a personal level help to achieve the important work / life balance as is the intention of the Children and Families Bill.