Right to Flexible Working: Managing Competing Requests the key Issue for Business

24 June 2014 - On 30 June the right to flexible working will be extended to all employees with 26 weeks of service under the Children and Families Act.  It is currently limited to parents with children under 17 (or under 18 if the child is disabled) and some carers.

The statutory procedure under which employers are obliged to consider requests will be replaced with a duty to deal with requests in a "reasonable" manner and within a "reasonable" timeframe - employers will have to notify an employee of a decision within three months of the date of the request. However, employers will still be able to refuse a request for one of a number of business reasons set out in the legislation.

Vanessa Hogan, Of Counsel in Hogan Lovells employment team, notes:

"It is important to remember that the change extends the right to request flexible working - not the right to actually work flexibly. While the Government has extended the right to request flexible working to all employees, the eight business reasons under which a flexible working request can be rejected remain unchanged". 

ACAS has published a Code of Practice for handling requests (which includes the existing statutory business reasons for rejecting a request) and a supplementary good practice code; designed to address concerns over how the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees interacts with an employer's duty not to indirectly discriminate.

Vanessa adds:

"In our experience clients are open to retaining and recruiting talent. Many employers will entertain a request to work flexibly either through an informal request system or as a result of a formal statutory request. Most are open to granting requests provided their business can support the request by the employees.

"However, while the current regime targets those with childcare responsibilities and carers, the new legislation requires employers to consider flexible working requests by any employee, whatever the reason. Managing competing requests made for different reasons could pose some tricky employee relations issues. Certainly the expanded scope for potential requests will mean more management time spent handling them, an increased risk of grievances and, possibly, discrimination claims from employees who have their requests turned down." 

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