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Law changes mean all employees can ask for flexible working

THE RIGHT TO REQUEST flexible working has been extended to all employees, sister publication Workplace Savings & Benefits reports.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said more than 20 million employees will benefit from the new legislation, which allows all workers at the same employer for 26 weeks or more the right to ask for alternative hours.

Prior to 30 June, the right was limited to parents with children under the age of 17 – or 18 if the child is disabled – and certain carers. Employers can only reject a request on eight specific criteria related to business need. Workers who have a request turned down also have the right to appeal the decision.

Reconciliation service Acas launched a Code of Practice alongside the rules, which aims to help employers consider any requests in a reasonable manner.

BIS predicted the new right will be particularly popular among older workers, who may want to work differently as they approach retirement, and to young people entering the labour market and undertaking additional training or learning alongside work.

Business minister Jo Swinson said flexible working would be a powerful retention tool for companies looking to attract top talent.

She said: “Employees will benefit from being able to balance work with other commitments in their lives. It also helps drive a cultural shift where flexible working becomes the norm.”

The new rules were largely welcomed by employment bodies and trade unions, although some critics say they do not go far enough.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the right to request will make it easier for all employees to better balance their work and home lives but it raised concerns that it was still too easy for employers to refuse any requests.

“Unfortunately the right to request is only the right to ask nicely. There is nothing to stop employers saying no,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.

Lawyers also warned of the potential legal risks that employers could face, explaining that there was a real risk of discrimination claims being brought.

Male employees may argue they have been sexually discriminated against if it appears the business is more sympathetic to women with children, while older or younger workers without childcare responsibility could bring claims of age discrimination, Charles Russell partner Bob Mecreate-Butcher explained.

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