The law as it stands allows for parents of children aged 16 or under, or disabled children under the age of 18, to apply to their employer to work more flexibly if they have worked for 26 weeks continuously at the date that the application is made.
However, the right to request flexible working is to be made more accessible with the advent of Government proposals in 2014, which:
- extend the right to request flexible working to all employees (not just those with parental responsibility for a child, or caring responsibilities for an adult);
- replace the current ‘right to request’ procedure with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner, and within a ‘reasonable’ period of time;
- create a statutory code of practice to give guidance on the meaning of ‘reasonable’ to employers; and
- provide guidance to employers on how to prioritise conflicting requests that are received at the same time.
The 26-week qualifying period for employees to make a request for flexible working will be retained, as will the restriction that means that employees can make only one flexible working request in any 12-month period.
According to research carried out over the last six months by XpertHR, eight out of ten employers already agree to the majority of flexible working requests from employees – both with and without children. This is clearly well before the Government’s extension, thus demonstrating that employers are not only well prepared for the forthcoming legal change but also recognise the benefit in allowing their employees as much flexibility as possible within their working week. The most common flexible working arrangements were found to be part-time hours, flexitime and staggered hours but there are many kinds of flexible working, as follows:
- part-time working
- flexi-time – employees may be required to work within essential periods but outside ‘core times’ they often get flexibility in how they work their hours
- working from home
- term-time working
- staggered hours – different start and finish times as a way of covering longer opening hours
- annual hours – the hours an employee works over a whole year are calculated and usually split into ‘set shifts’ and ‘reserve shifts’ which are worked as the demand dictates
- compressed working hours – employees work their total agreed hours over fewer working days
- shift-working – widespread in industries which must run on a 24-hour cycle.
Flexible working is not without its issues, however, and the research also explored the difficulties faced by employers when trying to implement an effective flexible working policy – most commonly in the following areas:
- complexity of scheduling working hours
- difficulty arranging meetings
- resentment from employees not working flexibly
- internal communication difficulties
- difficulty arranging training
However, these potential problems do not seem to have put employers off. The advantages to implementing such measures will be more motivated employees. Flexible working is not about creating a feel-good factor in the workplace: it’s about boosting the bottom line. Flexible working is part of good management practice. Although the statutory right to request flexible working has helped to popularise the idea, many businesses have adopted flexible working arrangements because it makes good business sense.