From 30th June 2014, all employees will be able to request flexible working – whether or not they have children or are carers.
At present, employees with more than 26 weeks’ service can make a request to work flexibly in order to care for certain children and adults. Once a flexible working request has been made, the onus is on the employer to follow a fairly prescriptive procedure which includes a timetable for when meetings must be held and when responses must be provided.
After 30th June, any employee who has 26 weeks’ continuous employment can make a flexible working request for any reason. Once the request has been made, however, there will no longer be such a strict onus on the employer and the only obligation is for the employer to deal with the application in a reasonable manner, within a three month “decision period” (which can be extended by agreement between the employer and employee).
Employers will still be able to refuse a request under one or more of the eight wide-ranging reasons set out in the legislation. Only one request can be made in any 12 month period.
It should be reiterated that the legal right is only to request flexible working, not to be granted it. However, there are many potential benefits to employers in properly considering a request (outside of their legal obligations) and various studies have found that a flexible approach can promote employee retention and motivation.
Employers should also ensure that they are compliant with other legal obligations not necessarily restricted to flexible working legislation. For example, “additional” protection may be given to employees requesting flexible working for the purposes of caring for children, religious requirements and/or reasonable adjustments for the purposes of a disability.
If you receive a flexible working request, please contact our Employment Team in London and St Albans (Hertfordshire) for legal and practical advice.