Flexible working for all?

Currently only parents and carers have the right to request flexible working.  However, the Government’s consultation on whether the right to request flexible working should be extended for all employees ended on 8 August 2011.  The Government aims to amend the legislation on flexible working as soon as possible.   Although employees have the right to request a contract variation to enable them to work flexibly there is no right to demand this.  Employers can still refuse such requests for specific business reasons. 

Some of the responses to the consultation throw up some interesting points and it will be interesting to see how the Government deals with these when implementing the new legislation.

One area of concern is that the Government is proposing to exclude small businesses from the proposed extension of the right to request flexible working.  There is a fear amongst some, including Mike Emmott from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, that this will lead to the creation of a two tier labour market and also that it may perversely disincentivise small companies from expanding.

There is also concern that if the right is extended to all employees in the way proposed by the Government, then the statutory procedure for making such a request will be abolished.  Although on first consideration that may be seen a welcome departure from bureaucracy, the TUC has raised its concern that replacing the statutory process with with a requirement to consider all those that were “reasonable”, would make it easier for employers to say no to staff who wanted to work flexibly. 

I am not sure I agree.  In my view companies will have to have very good reasons for refusing requests in order to avoid both men and older employees being able to rely on refusals of such requests to bring sex and age discrimination claims. 

A number of business groups have criticised the proposals, saying that, although flexible working is beneficial, bringing in legislation will lead to a “significant administrative and financial burden” on employers.  I am not, however, certain that argument holds true. 

I am of the view that giving all employees the right to work flexibly and not only those with caring responsibilities is a massive step in the right direction.  Currently the majority of people who make flexible working applications are women with children.  What this means is that employers have yet another reason to worry about employing women of childbearing age, in addition to the generous maternity leave provisions.  By making the right to request flexible working universal, I hope that more men and women of all ages will make such a request thereby reducing the inequalities in pay and status that currently exist between the sexes.

 

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About Belinda Lester
I am the managing director and founder of Lionshead Law a specialist employment law and HR consultancy company.

One Response to Flexible working for all?

  1. Andrew Payne says:

    It is indeed a shame that many employers cannot see the benefits to their business or orginisation in accommodating requests for flexible working. Flexible working is an incentive to parents or carers to continue in employement which benefits us all in terms of tax revenue and reductions in benefit payments, so the government should carefully balance the needs of employers and employees.
    Thanks to Belinda for this insight, more please!

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