Extension To Flexible Working
On 13 November 2012 the Government announced its decision to proceed with the extension of the right to request flexible working.
This means that from 2014 all employees will, provided the employee has obtained 26 weeks continuous service, have the right to request flexible working.
In addition, the current flexible working procedure will be replaced with a duty on employers to deal with requests reasonably and a statutory code of practice that will be finalised following Acas consultation. Guidance will be provided in relation to prioritising conflicting requests received from different employees and how the right will interact with discrimination legislation.
Currently parents of children under 17, parents of disabled children under 18 and some carers who have at least 26 weeks continuous employment have the right to request flexible working arrangements and this right will be open to everyone.
Employees will still be limited to one request in any 12 month period as in the current regime. Interestingly, micro-businesses will not be exempt. Consultation was sought on whether businesses with fewer than 10 employees should be exempt but this was rejected primarily to comply with the EU Parental Leave Directive. It would also have undermined the argument that flexible working benefits businesses, not just employee.
Whether this changes the way in which people work remains to be seen.
There is unlikely to be a significant uptake of these new rights, simply due to the fact that flexible working is likely to be something employees will require or seek to negotiate when they commence their employment rather than after 26 weeks. New applications may come from grandparents willing to take on caring responsibilities or people seeking and able to afford a better work/life balance. The bottom line is that economic necessities are more likely to dictate how people arrange their working time.
The Government said that their aim was to introduce a culture of flexible working that is accepted in every workplace. However, whilst it is laudable that they have removed the requirement to be a parent or carer it seems to be in direct contravention in relation to their current consultation to create employee owners. This new idea, which has recently been touted, involves a new type of employee with reduced rights – one of which is only being able to request flexible working on return from parental leave. A classic case of mixed messages.