Hot topic: How will flexible working changes affect HR? Part two

marie-wheatley

Legislation to allow all employees to request flexible working comes into effect on 30 June. With a record number of employees already working from home, do HR professionals appreciate the full impact of the changes? Daisy Group HRD Marie Wheatley gives her view.

It is crucial for HR professionals to create up-to-date policies that reflect the new legislation, so that they comply with the flexible working changes. Effective preparation, which ensures internal processes are in place to deal with requests, will help avoid any unnecessary burden on resources.

Despite the flexible working trend gaining pace as workers begin to realise its benefits, businesses shouldn’t expect a mass influx of requests. Instead departments should anticipate and cater for the long-term impact, which can be done by running surveys to predict the likely uptake.

Outlining clear parameters from the beginning will help avoid any confusion and prove an effective way to minimise unreasonable requests. It is very important that staff are aware that the regulation only ensures that their request is dealt with appropriately, as opposed to thinking it is guaranteed.

Businesses should utilise the Acas code of practice for handling requests in a ‘reasonable manner’, which although not statutory, will provide a framework for analysing requests as well as being taken into consideration by employment tribunals. The official legislation for rejecting a request represents a fair code that offers businesses protection around key considerations such as cost, logistics and productivity.

The changes, if handled properly, should represent a massive boost for the industry, offering the potential to enhance employees’ job satisfaction, which will improve morale and loyalty. Professionals don’t need to feel overwhelmed if they have a framework in place that handles each request openly, fairly and without discrimination. If this is done the changes shouldn’t cause too much of a challenge.

This article was published coutesy of HR magazine and was written by Marie Wheatley, group head of HR at telecommunications company Daisy Group

 

Hot topic: Changes to flexible working law

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Legislation to allow all employees to request flexible working came into effect on 30 June. In part one of this Hot Topic Jane Fielding, head of employment at international law firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co explains how HR will need to prepare.

It is debatable whether extending the right to request flexible working to all employees will really trigger a tidal wave of applications. A 2012 CIPD survey indicates that 63% of workplaces already allow all employees to request flexible working and they have not been deluged.

For most employees, it’s about balancing flexibility with affordability and, particularly during a recession, not everyone’s family finances can support reduced hours, for example.

That doesn’t mean the extended rights won’t have an impact on the workplace and HR does need to be gearing up for the changes.  As well as extending the right to request, the new regime gives more flexibility in handling the request. It replaces a fairly prescriptive procedure with a duty to consider requests in a “reasonable manner”, generally within three months.

Managers will need guidelines for dealing with requests so the situation doesn’t drift, leaving the individual hanging and reducing the time to look properly at the request (and any appeal). The statutory business reasons for rejecting a request won’t change.

Prioritising requests is also likely to be a challenge. Employers don’t have to make value judgments  – many organisations do not require someone to say why they want the change. However, firms should bear in mind how this right fits with discrimination legislation.

Most employers are familiar with the risk of indirect sexual discrimination if a woman with childcare responsibilities is refused a change in working pattern. But if requests do start to come from a wider range of staff (such as male employees wanting to look after children or older employees seeking to wind down towards retirement), employers need to treat those even-handedly if they want to avoid discrimination claims. There will be some difficult judgment calls if not all requests can be accommodated.

This article is published courtesy of HR magazine. Read part two of hot topic tomorrow featuring the views of Daisy Group HRD Marie Wheatley.

 

Is your company ready for the practical demands of flexible working?

hrtechnologymobile

With the new changes to flexible working legislation coming in on 30 June 2014, HR teams must be prepared for an increase in requests from employees to work when and where suits them.

Recent ADP research, The Workforce View 2013, found that while almost two thirds (63%) of the UK workforce still work in a fixed location and 49% regular hours more than two thirds (68%) said they would actually like some element of flexibility. Therefore, a significant chunk of the population not currently working flexibly would like to.

What’s more, figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics showed that there were 4.2 million UK home workers in the first three months of 2014, amounting to 13.9% of the workforce. This is the highest proportion since measurements started in 1998. These figures indicate the flexible working trend is gaining pace and shows no sign of abating any time soon.

A trend shift is no bad thing, as the new rules promise to give employees more control over their working day and work-life balance. Meanwhile, potential benefits for employers include improved engagement and productivity levels, not to mention reduced office overheads due to fewer staff on-site.

However, the changes might not be be plain sailing for HR departments. While the legal side is one headache, there are also the practicalities of having workers operating from various locations to consider. Ensuring flexible workers can do their jobs effectively requires the right technology and people management processes, yet this is an area where organisations may struggle.

For example, the ADP research showed that 52% of the working nation does not currently have a mobile, laptop, tablet or smartphone provided by their employer. While some of these workers may be in industries such as manufacturing or retail, where flexible working isn’t possible, for office-based staff this could be a significant barrier to working flexibly. A laptop would now be considered a necessity for most remote and flexible workers, as is a mobile phone – ideally of the ‘smart’ variety.

But hardware like this can be expensive, which can put some companies off flexible working at the outset. But nowadays, this doesn’t need to be the last word on the matter. Smartphone usage increased to 68% of the population in 2014, according to TNS research commissioned by Google this year, while 86% of adults use a laptop or desktop online at home (Facebook and GfK research, March 2013). Bring your own device, therefore, offers a seriously viable alternative for companies, particularly for SMEs.

Accessing work information can now be facilitated through the cloud, with a multitude of innovative, secure applications on offer to manage every area of the business, including HR.

Cloud technology also helps with one of the most regularly cited barriers to flexible and remote working: communications. Company updates can now be managed through the cloud, while instant messaging and specialist social media applications ensure employees are always in touch with their colleagues and managers, wherever they are operating.

HR professionals, like many others, have seen IT increasingly influence their day-to-day role and responsibilities. Yet the melting pot of technological and cultural factors involved in flexible working mean that it is more important than ever for HR teams to collaborate with their IT department. Traditionally not the best of bedfellows, combining the right IT solutions with the best people management expertise will ensure the barriers to introducing flexible working can be overcome. It’s time to start talking.

This article is published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Annabel Jones, HR director at ADP

 

The New Flexible Working Regime – 30 June 2014

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Following the Government’s Consultation on Modern Workplaces the right to request flexible working will be extended, from 30 June 2014, by the Children and Families Act 2014.

The right to request flexible working is currently linked to carer responsibilities, including parents of young children, disabled children and adults in need of care. Many employers will have received requests from employees for flexible working in this context before and will therefore be familiar with the current statutory procedure for handling flexible working requests.

For those who are not familiar with the principle of flexible working requests, this is simply the right for employees to request changes to their working hours, working times or location and if granted such changes become permanent changes to their terms and conditions of employment. This is often associated with requests to work part-time following return to work after maternity leave, but is certainly not limited to that scenario. The current regime includes a highly prescriptive and much criticised statutory procedure, which employers must follow when handling the request, including strict timescales for meetings and appeals.

The changes which take effect in June will have the following main implications:

  1. All employees will have a statutory right to request flexible working for whatever reason. The only eligibility criteria are that they must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the date they make the request and must not have made another request within the last 12 months.
  2. The strict statutory procedure will be abolished and replaced with a requirement that employers consider flexible working requests in a “reasonable manner”.

This means that although the right has been greatly extended the Government have attempted to balance this with a more flexible employer-friendly process.

The requirement to consider requests in a “reasonable manner” appears at first to be vague and difficult to follow, but ACAS have come to the aide of employers by producing a Code of Practice on Handling in a Reasonable Manner Requests to Work Flexibly and an accompanying Guide, both of which can be accessed on the ACAS website, www.acas.org.uk.

Although the process outlined in the Code is not statutory it will be taken into account by Employment Tribunals when determining whether or not an employer has dealt with a flexible working request in a reasonable manner and therefore whether or not the employer should pay compensation to the employee as a result of unreasonable handling of a flexible working request.

Full details can be found within the Code itself but in summary the process for handling flexible working requests should be:

  1. Upon receipt of a written request for flexible working, the employer should arrange to meet with the employee to discuss the request as soon as possible. Employers should give employees the right to be accompanied at the meeting.
  2. If the employer intends to approve the request without the need for a meeting with the employee then a meeting is not necessary.
  3. All requests should be considered in a non-discriminatory way and can only be rejected for one or more of 8 specific business reasons (which remain unchanged from the previous legislation): burden of additional costs; inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; 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 your business.
  4. Employers must inform employees of the decision in writing as soon as possible. If the request is accepted (or accepted with modifications) then the employer should discuss with the employee when and how the changes should be implemented.
  5. If the employer rejects the request they must give the reasons for the rejection in writing and allow the employee the right to appeal. Any appeal meeting should also permit the employee the right to be accompanied.
  6. The overall time period from receipt of the request to completion of the process (including any appeal) must be no longer than 3 months, unless an extension has been agreed by the employee.

What should you do to prepare for the changes? If you have an existing written policy or procedure on flexible working then this will become out of date on 30 June 2014 and if you do not change it then you may be contractually bound to stick to the more prescriptive timescales and deadlines contained within it. A complete overhaul of your flexible working procedure and any HR templates should therefore be conducted as soon as possible with a view to implementing the changes on 30 June 2014.

If you do not already have a written policy or procedure on flexible working then it is recommended that employers put one in place. Employers are required to advise their employees of how to make a flexible working request and the information that must be provided. To ensure consistency and compliance with this obligation this information would be best set out within a formal written policy, which should also outline the process that will be followed, the right to be accompanied and the timescales involved.

A key principle of the ACAS Guide relates to addressing attitudes towards flexible working with a view to employers recognising the benefits for their business in allowing properly managed flexible working arrangements. Many employers find that a flexible workforce suits their business and creates a happy and trusting work environment. In fact, many employers have already extended the right to request flexible working to all employees, before the forthcoming change in the law in June. This may allow employers to retain employees that may otherwise have left due to family commitments, voluntary work or other outside work commitments or interests. However, it is important to remember that the legislation does not currently, nor will it after 30 June 2014, create a right to work flexibly, rather it is a right to have the request considered.

This article was written by Nina Robinson, head of legal services, HR Legal Service

 

Fathers jealous of perceived maternity advantage, says paper

paternity

Fathers trying to secure flexible working arrangements see themselves at a disadvantage compared to women, according to an academic paper on the subject.

Parents, Perceptions and Belonging: Exploring Working Among UK Fathers and Mothers features in-depth interviews with working mothers and fathers.

It suggests male workers feel ‘flex envy’, as they face barriers to flexible working that they don’t believe exist for women.

However, Caroline Gatrell, senior lecturer at Lancaster University Management School and co-author of the paper, told HR magazine this view is often wide of the mark.

“A lot of factors mean that fathers see themselves facing struggles that they believe are exclusive to them,” she said. “In truth, women have faced these problems for years. In many cases the difference is that women are aware of these issues and are prepared to fight for their rights.”

Gatrell added that this is particularly true of women who are on their second or third child. Despite the skewed perceptions men have, the paper suggests that real barriers do exist for fathers, especially where the traditional family structures break down.

“Managers often assume that when a man becomes a father, there is a woman at home who is able and prepared to do the bulk of the caring,” Gatrell said. “This isn’t always the case. In some instances the mother has left, or even died, and the man is the sole carer.”

The paper also has contributions from Cary Cooper and Paul Sparrow, both leading HR thinkers and academics at Lancaster University Management School. It was compiled in conjunction with Working Families, a UK charity that helps workers achieve a better work-life balance.

 

Flexible working: dads want choice, too

arvind-hickman

Flexible working, particularly in relation to child care, is heavily skewed towards mums. HR magazine editor Arvind Hickman argues a shift in employer attitudes is needed ahead of next year’s shared parental changes.

Recently, I met up with a business associate at the Brockwell Lido for lunch. When we entered the bright, airy cafeteria the noise of toddlers, babies and stay-at-home mums was instantly deafening: “Great choice for a business meeting,” I thought.

The waitress told me this scene is a daily occurrence at the Lido café, and who could fault mums for it. But one thing that was noticeably absent from the cafe, until I had arrived, was the presence of men.

Why is it that women disproportionately take on the primary parenting role? The short answer is that current legislation and societal norms are heavily geared towards mothers assuming primary child care. And, according to our report on flexible working, dads aren’t happy about the lack of flexibility.

A recent study, by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), found fewer than 10% of new fathers take more than two weeks of paternity leave. This figure drops to only 2% for male managers, citing greater pressure to return to work early.

Worryingly, a quarter of men don’t take any time off after the birth of their child, missing out on those magical early days of a newborn’s life.

Aside from workplace pressure, poor pay is cited as a huge disincentive after the two-week statutory paternity period.

New shared parental legislation, being introduced in April 2015, means that men and women will be able to choose how they split parental leave. However, our report and the ILM study shows that flexibility alone will not lead to more even parental care.

Employer attitudes that discourage men from requesting time off for child care need to change, and here’s the reason why: dads want choice and flexibility, too.

Workplace flexibility is an economic issue, not a gender issue. The old-fashioned gender stereotype about men being the breadwinner is not a reality in many households today.

Latte papas

In some countries, this shift towards more stay-at-home dads is well underway. In the oft-quoted beacon of gender equality Sweden, parents can share 480 days of parental leave per child – 390 days of which is paid at 80% of salary. It’s a system I have personally benefitted from as my child is half Swedish and spent his first six months there.

This has led to Swedish dads, known locally as ‘latte papas’, taking 24% of parental leave in 2012. Sure, it’s not quite ‘equality’, but a split that is currently unimaginable in the UK. Importantly, it provides families choice, and while the parental split may never be equal it will at least be fair.

While it is difficult to compare the business landscape of a social democracy to the firmly capitalist UK, a workplace culture that encourages dads to share parental leave benefits parents, business and society.

It allows mums to ease back into work more seamlessly and ensure their careers are not halted by motherhood, if they so choose. It also allows businesses to retain talented individuals that might otherwise be lost to parenting. Finally, it allows dads to no longer feel they are missing out.

How successful the UK’s new shared parental rules will be remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: dads want workplace flexibility, and let’s hope business rises to this challenge.

This article was written by Arvind Hickman (pictured) editor of HR magazine.

Flexible working: dads want choice

Flexible working

Archaic it may be, but when most people think of flexible working arrangements, it’s highly likely that mothers spring to mind. But the tide is turning. For a start, employers are being urged to respond to a growing resentment among young fathers who feel they are being unfairly treated when it comes to flexible working.

Their dissatisfaction is highlighted in Working Families’ recent report Time, Health and the Family. The charity’s publication is timely: the Children and Families Bill, which extends the right to request flexible working to all employees and introduces shared parental leave, has just become law after receiving royal assent. And the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills has announced that the extended right to request flexible working will come into force in June (it had been scheduled for April).

Father time

According to the Working Families research, the legislation could have a big impact on organisations. According to almost one third (31%) of parents, flexible working is currently unavailable to them, with education, retail and healthcare the three sectors least likely to offer it. Fathers in the 26-35 age group are the most resentful; especially those with a single child, and this annoyance can have a negative impact on productivity and motivation.

Working Families’ chief executive Sarah Jackson says many employers still assume the mother is the main carer and should be the first point of call when an issue arises at school or nursery. This concept, she adds, is fast becoming outdated. “The male employee, focused full-time on his work, is becoming a museum-piece,” she says. “Tomorrow’s workers, male and female, will expect time and space for their family lives and responsibilities alongside their work.”

Jackson adds that more than 90% of UK organisations claim to offer at least one form of flexible working which, if true, indicates that employers are not doing enough to communicate internally what options are available. “What’s not known about won’t be asked for, and if resentment builds up about a lack of flexibility, performance will suffer,” she warns.

Separate research from Hay Group reveals that 63% of UK companies claim to be supporting people to achieve a better work/life balance, up from 51% in a year.

But how true are these boasts? Caroline Gatrell, a senior lecturer at Lancaster University Management School, has researched fathers and flexible working and says they get a raw deal. She claims that while many employers acknowledge fathers should be able to work more flexibly, they subtly discourage men from making requests to do so. “Many fathers are disappointed when trying to access family-friendly working opportunities because these are refused,” Gatrell says. “They feel resentful if employers are winning awards for ‘paper policies’ that do not work in practice for individual dads.”

“Organisations might have the statistics to support how they help men to work differently but, in many cases, the reality is line managers cannot get their heads around the idea,” she adds. “There is also an assumption that men and women who want to work flexibly are not as committed to their career. But many people only want to work this way for a few years while their children are young.”

Justice for fathers?

Now that the Children and Families Bill has received royal assent, mums and dads are able to share parental leave in their child’s first year. Fathers can also request time off

to attend antenatal or adoption appointments. In addition, the legislation means every employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service will be able to request flexible working, whether or not they have parenting or carer responsibilities (those in the latter group already have the right).

The legislation states that employers must give reasonable consideration to every application. Employers can use their own HR procedures to consider requests, but they must respond within three months. What will notchange is the ‘one request per 12 months’ rule, and workers still only have a right to request flexible working – not a right for it to be automatically granted.

Emma Whiting, a partner at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, says the current law is overly prescriptive and leads to compensation claims for minor technical breaches of what

is a strict statutory framework. “The introduction of the concept of reasonableness is likely to cause the biggest issue for employers,” she says. “Currently there is no requirement under the statutory procedure for employers to be reasonable or act in good faith. What will be reasonable will vary from case to case. To refuse a request without any real consideration of its merit will not be reasonable.”

The valid reasons for refusing a request will remain, and include: if a change would increase costs; have a detrimental effect on a company’s ability to meet customer demand; make it difficult to reorganise work among the remaining staff or mean recruiting additional workers; and have a negative effect on quality or performance. “There will be no new right to flexible working, simply a right to have a conversation with employers about flexible working,” points out Heather Platt, a barrister at Riverview Chambers.

Employers must be careful not to give priority to requests from parents as this could fuel discrimination complaints from employees without children. At employee assistance programme provider CiC, which last year was named by Working Families as one of the UK’s most family-friendly small businesses, flexible working requests go beyond childcare and other caring responsibilities, says clinical director Libby Payne. “One-third of flexible working requests now relate to education and training,” she explains.

Legal headaches

Not considering such claims could be a potential headache for employers, lawyers warn. “Prioritising mothers could result in sex discrimination claims from men, and prioritising parents could give rise to age discrimination claims,” says Jennifer Nicol, a partner at law firm Doyle Clayton. “One exception to this is where the employee making the request is disabled. The duty to make reasonable adjustments may mean an employer must agree to their flexible working request in priority to others.”  Acas’s guidance explains more on what employers should do when a member of staff makes a request, to ensure all applications are handled fairly to avoid accusations of discrimination.

But it’s not all about compliance. With the revised law covered widely in the media, many employers are keen to highlight both internally and externally how positively they view requests from all staff to work flexibly. They already understand the business benefits of retaining talented people and reducing absenteeism. Automotive and cycle retailer Halfords Group is one example. It recently ran an internal campaign to ensure its 11,000 staff were aware of its flexible working policy which, says people director Jonathan Crookall, supports workers with and without young children. He says anyone making an application will receive a response based purely on the work needs of their team.

“I’ve not had a single case of someone challenging our policy,” he says. “We also operate flexible start and finish times and have good practice established around sabbaticals. One of our most senior traders is on one now.  He isn’t a recent parent, but we are supporting him on a trip of a lifetime after many years of service.”

Crookall adds that although formal applications for flexible working are recorded at head office, many requests are agreed informally between staff members and their line manager. “We recognise that, sometimes, people may require more flexibility to support their commitments outside of work,” he says. “We offer part-time working, job-sharing, working from home, compressed working hours and shift working.”

Stretching SME’s

Smaller companies can worry about the impact on the day-to-day running of their business when individuals ask to change their working patterns, but digital marketing agency MVF has allowed male employees to work flexibly without any problems. One man has altered his office hours to 10am-6pm to accommodate his long commute, and another to do the morning school run. A third changes his hours to fit in his cricket playing, while a semi-professional squash player leaves early when he has a match. “At present, eight fathers work from home two or three days a week so they can spend more time with their families without any effect on their careers,” says MVF’s HR director Amanda Nuttall.

However, not all SMEs welcome the changes outlined in the Children and Families Bill. Charlie Mullins, CEO and founder of independent plumbing company Pimlico Plumbers, claims the upcoming amendments regarding shared parental leave are another blow to Britain’s small businesses. “By the stroke of a pen, the coalition has massacred small businesses with a universe of bureaucracy that will cause as much turbulence in its administration as in its practice,” he says. “I am not happy that under these new laws, twice as many workers as before can now come and go as they please, regardless of the impact to business.”

He says his views are not tainted by having a majority of male plumbers because most of his office staff are female. “We have several couples who work together within our workforce,” he says. “If everyone at Pimlico Plumbers took advantage of the shared parental leave and several staff took this leave at the same time, how could we function?”

Yet Mullins insists he is pleased to see fathers’ rights are at the heart of the debate. “We usually give new dads time off. My HR manager took a few weeks to bond with his baby and support his wife, and we always encourage this. But when these things become law, in people’s minds they become a ‘right’. Even if a new dad doesn’t want or need to take several weeks off work, the chances are he will do so if Bob on the other side of the office has taken advantage.”

According to Working Families’ Jackson, it’s all about choice. “Shared parental leave is all about giving parents a choice about who works and who cares,” she says. “Current arrangements are heavily loaded towards mothers, and we know there is a real desire from fathers to be more involved in the day-to-day care of their young children.” That, though, is unlikely to be music to the ears of Mullins and other concerned small business owners.

However, regarding the right to request flexible working, Jackson says the impact might not be as big as some companies fear. “When the right to request for certain groups came in, there were dire warnings from some employers about the floodgates opening and everyone wanting to work flexibly, undermining business,” she says. “In reality, this hasn’t happened.”

 

Flexible working: what you need to know ahead of the rules

vicky-roberts

The extensions to current legislation on flexible working are due later this year, giving more employees with service of six months or more rights to request flexible working.

The new legislation will require employers to consider requests for greater flexibility in terms of hours, times and location, from a greater proportion of their workforce, which means HR departments will need to be prepared.

Historically, flexible working legislation was intended mainly for childcare, and later broadened out to allow for other types of care. HR departments have not found these rules too onerous but some fear challenges when the reasons for the requests become more diverse, such as for religious observance and lifestyle choice.

The new laws need not be such a cause for worry, however. With some planning it should be possible to turn a regulatory requirement into an opportunity to create positive cultural changes throughout your organisation.

We are already working with some of the UK’s biggest employers to help them navigate the system. Here are some tips on on how to plan for the new rules:

1. Don’t panic. You have most of the knowledge and skills to handle these changes, you just need to change mindset and think about context. The requests that staff make (changes to hours, times, locations) will be no different – it’s their reasons that may differ.

2. Review policy and process. This is an opportunity to make your process more user-friendly for both sides. The tight response times will disappear, replaced by a principle-based system that makes the rules easier.

3.Take the opportunity to refresh knowledge. Everyone will need to be up to speed on the circumstances in which the right to request flexible working will apply. There are eight reasons why a flexible working request might not be granted because it is not appropriate for your business (for example, detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand). These, plus how the indirect discrimination rules relate to them, need to be clear to all.

4. Think broadly. Ask all concerned to think about the broader impact of more flexible working in your organisation. For example, any data security risks that come with more people accessing company systems from away from the office. Do you have a bring your own device or remote working policy in place?

5. Be balanced. Think about both the benefits and the challenges of better work-life balance. There will be a positive effect on morale, but managers may need coaching to adapt their management style to the differences between managing a present team and a distributed one, or a team that work different hours from one another.

The new flexible working rules may support initiatives to improve workplace culture and help to create a great place to work. If there is one disadvantage to the current system, it is that it favours only one element of the workforce (those with family/care commitments). The new laws will solve that problem by including everybody, so this is an opportunity to do more than just demonstrate compliance.

This article was published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Vicky Roberts, head of v-learning at HR and employment law firm Vista.

 

Extended flexible working rights could create unexpected issues for employers

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The Government’s decision to extend flexible working rights to all employees next year could create unexpected issues for some employers, such as multiple requests from workers who don’t want to work on Fridays.

From April 2014, the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees, not just those that have children under the age of 17 or responsibilities as a carer.

Under the current regulations, the employee has to make a request in writing and the employer has to discuss the request with the employee within 28 days, giving their decision within a further 14 days.

The employee then has 14 days to appeal that decision if they wish. The changes to the rules next year mean that employers and employees will no longer have to process requests in a particular way and within a specific timeframe.

This move to a less formal process, combined with the decision to open up flexible working rights to all employees is likely to be welcomed by businesses.

Research published by the CBI in July found firms can save up to 13% of their workforce costs by embracing more sophisticated and less rigid working practices.

While most employers will want to accommodate flexible working requests wherever possible and appreciate that less rigid working practices can bring real benefits in terms of worker loyalty and productivity, they should be prepared for some difficult discussion along the way.

In some instances, where workplace attendance for a pre-determined set of hours is essential to meeting the operational needs of the business, the business should be seen to be considering all such requests in a structured way.

One person’s right to flexible working could be another’s annoyance and a rush on requests to avoid work on a specific day of the week, Friday for example, could put the employer in a difficult position from both an operational and employee relations perspective.

Receiving a number of requests to condense a five-day work week into four, with Friday or Monday off, could force the employer into a situation where it would be required to agree to some requests while rejecting others.

Also, if some employees are allowed to work through their lunch break in order to extend their working day, allowing them to reduce the number of days they work, this could cause resentment and might also leave the employer susceptible to potential breaches of health and safety regulations if rest breaks are not being adhered to.

Flexible working requests often include the right to work remotely for part of the working day or week.

Despite the fact that these days most workers are equipped to communicate with the office or with customers via a smartphone or another device which is connected to the office shared drive, some employers might not be aware that if they allow staff to work remotely, they may be required to ensure that their home-based work station is fit for purpose and compliant with health and safety regulations.

Crucially for employers, the eight grounds for refusing requests for flexible working, which are currently available for employers will remain in place. These include the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff; detrimental impact on quality and performance; insufficiency of working during the periods the employee is proposed to work and planned structural changes.

Despite the more relaxed process for handling flexible working requests, employers would be wise to stick to current procedures where possible to ensure that all requests are treated fairly and in a timely fashion. Failing to do so could increase the likelihood of workplace resentment and potential disputes.

It is also a good idea to consider a three-month trial when flexible working arrangements are granted. After three months, a meeting should take place to discuss how the arrangement is working out for both parties and changes can be implemented if necessary. This approach would help employers to demonstrate that they have given fair consideration to the individual’s request to work flexibly, even if the right is later withdrawn.

Although not without their concerns, the incoming changes to flexible working rights represent a massive opportunity for employers to change the way they operate while improving employees’ work life balance. The key will be managing requests openly and fairly for all, while ensuring the operational needs of the business and its customers are met.

This article was published courtesy of HR magazine and was written by Paula Whelan (pictured) head of employment at law firm Shakespeares

 

Increasing flexible working and offering shared parental leave will lead to a more motivated workforce, says minister

joswinson2

More employers in the UK need to offer flexible working and promote shared parental leave if we want “total equality” across the UK workforce, according to employment relations minister, Jo Swinson.

Speaking at an ACAS and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) briefing in London yesterday, Swinson said more businesses must start to “change traditional working cultures”.

“I believe [flexible working and shared parental leave] will be economically beneficial to employers,” Swinson said. “With these measures workers are more likely to be happy in work, you’ll see reduced sickness absence, improvement in mental health issues and will result in more motivated and healthy workers.”

Swinson added: “We need to change working cultures to reflect a modern workforce. We are still stuck in the 1950s – all these old stereotypes are a thing of the past.”

Also speaking at the event was Anne Sharp chief executive of ACAS, who echoed Swinson’s thoughts. “Flexible working is about modernising the workforce,” she said.

Sharp said these proposals present “great opportunities” for business to get the best out of their workforce and will give them the “ability to recruit and retain the most talented employees”.

She said: “It used to be seen as a perk and for years companies used to say ‘it will work there but not in my company’, but we’ve seen it can work.”

“Offering flexible working can also help plug the large skills gap we have in the UK.”

The changes are scheduled to come into force in 2014 for the extended right to request flexible working and 2015 for shared parental leave.

Any employee who has been with the company for 26 weeks or more will have the right to request flexible working and an employer will have to consider every request.