From April 6, 2009, parents of children aged 16 or under -- or younger than 18 in the case of disabled children -- have the right to apply for flexible working. The law also includes carers of certain adults, as laid out in the Work and Families Act 2006.
Flexible working is a range of options designed to help employees balance work and home life. It is particularly valuable for parents of young children and people who are caring for elderly or disabled dependants.
There are lots of different alternatives to the standard Monday-to-Friday, 9-5 working week. Many of these are more likely to suit parents or people with extra responsibilities.
What can employees request?
Eligible employees, who have worked with their employer for 26 continuous weeks or more, will be able to request a change to the hours they work, a change to the times when those hours must be worked, or to work from home. They can also request to job-share with another person, to work a set number of hours per year, rather than per week and not to work during school holidays.
Are all employees eligible?
Not yet. To apply an employee must:
Be an employee.
Have worked for their employer continuously for 26 weeks at the date the application is made.
Not be an agency worker or a member of the armed forces.
Not have made another application to work flexibly under the right during the past 12 months.
Be the parent of a child aged under sixteen, or under eighteen where disabled.
Have responsibility for the upbringing of the child and be making the application to enable them to care for the child.
Be either: the mother, father, adopter, guardian, special guardian or foster parent of the child; or
married to or the partner of the child’s mother, father, adopter, guardian, special guardian or foster parent.
Carers of adults who are in need of care
Must be or expect to be caring for a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative; or
If not the spouse, partner or a relative, live at the same address as the adult in need of care.
Do employers have to accept the request?
No, but they must have a valid reason for rejecting it. When a request for flexible working is made, the employer must follow a set procedure.
The procedure is designed to ensure that the request is taken seriously and seeks to facilitate discussion and enable both parties to gain a clear understanding of each other’s thinking.
An employer may only refuse a request where there is a recognised business ground for doing so and the employee should be provided with a written explanation of why this is. If you reject a request for any other reason, you risk being taken to an employment tribunal.
Are there any benefits for the employer?
Employers haven’t exactly welcomed the new legislation with open arms, but offering flexible working conditions could, in fact, have many potential benefits - especially for small businesses.
A survey by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that nine out of ten employers find family-friendly flexible working to be cost effective, while many companies have found that since implementing flexible working policies their productivity has improved through better staff retention rates and improved morale.
By offering flexible working you’ll be a more attractive business to work for and, as a result, should be able to attract a wider range and better calibre of candidate when recruiting. If you allow staff to work the type of hours that suit them best, they will be better motivated to work harder and you’ll stand a better of chance of holding on to them.
Other benefits include the opportunity to extend business hours without having to pay overtime and a reduction in absenteeism.
What else should I consider?
Employers also need to consider and be aware of the Sex Discrimination Act when dealing with a request for flexible working.
A woman who is unable to continue her pattern of work because of her family responsibilities may be able to claim sex discrimination if her request to work flexibly is rejected unreasonably and not for genuine business reasons.
In turn, a man who feels his application to work flexibly is treated less sympathetically than if a female colleague had made it, may be able to claim sex discrimination.
Employers also need to be aware of not discriminating against part-time workers. The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations make it unlawful to treat part-timers less favourably in their contractual terms and conditions than comparable full-timers.
This means that when granting a request for flexible working that involves a reduction in hours, employers should be aware that their employees are still entitled to the same consideration in respect of training, promotion and financial issues.
It might appear a complex issue, but if you follow the set procedures then introducing flexible working into your business needn't be daunting - and it might even benefit it.