The purpose of the changes are to promote career progression for female staff and to promote different ways of working. These changes together with the shared parental leave changes due to come into force on 5 April 2015 could see more dad’s staying at home with their children.
Not only has the right to request changed but also how the request is dealt with. Employers now have three months to deal with the flexible working request. The three month period includes providing an appeal outcome to the employee if the employer does not accept the request. An employer must consider the request, meet with the employee and respond to the employee. If the employer follows the right process, even if the request is rejected an employee will be prevented from bringing a claim under the flexible working legislation. However, employers should be aware that discrimination claims may still flow from a rejection.
Requests before 30 June 2014
Previously this right only applied to employees who had 26 weeks’ service and were responsible for children under the age of 16, a disabled child under 18 or a carer for an adult. If you have a request floating around that was made prior to 30 June 2014 you will still need to comply with the old statutory procedure for considering requests.
Do I have to accept the request?
No. There are eight business reasons for refusing the request:
1. the burden of additional costs;
2. an inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
3. an inability to recruit additional staff;
4. a detrimental impact on quality;
5. a detrimental impact on performance;
6. a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
7. insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work;
8. a planned structural change to the business.
More than one request at the same time
The biggest challenge will be how to deal with competing requests. Employers may have to prioritise some requests over others, such as where an employee is disabled. Where employees are not disabled, an employer may wish to ask employees to volunteer to change their working pattern to accommodate a request. It is always going to be tricky to keep everyone happy but one thing that is certain is that there can be benefits to a flexible working approach by retaining talented individuals who cannot conform to the 9 to 5 rule. A flexible approach is likely to lead to less stress, absenteeism and loss of productivity and provide higher levels of employee satisfaction and greater operational agility.
If you are unsure whether you can accommodate a request there is nothing stopping an employer from implementing a trial for a set period. Where an employer wishes to do so and it will take longer than three months for the trial to be concluded and any decision to be given, an extension should be sought and agreed between the parties. If employers embrace this early on it is less likely to cause a headache when shared parental leave rights come into force next year.
Have you been faced with a influx of requests? We can help! Contact Emily Yeardley, our employment solicitor.