February 18th, 2015 / Insight posted in

Changes to Flexible Working Guidelines

By Adam Flight

Following the Government’s Consultation on Modern Workplaces the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees on 30 June 2014. The right to request flexible working was previously linked to caring responsibilities, including parents of young children, disabled children and dependent adults. Many of you will have received staff requests for flexible working in this context before and will, therefore, be familiar with the strict statutory procedure for handling flexible working requests. What’s changed? The changes which took effect on 30 June 2014 will have the following main implications:

  • All employees will have a statutory right to request flexible working for any reason. The only eligibility criteria are that they must have 26 weeks of continuous employment at the date they make the request and must not have made another request within the last 12 months.
  • The strict statutory procedure will be abolished and replaced with a requirement that employers consider flexible working requests in a “reasonable manner”. This means that although the right has been greatly extended, the Government has attempted to balance this with a more flexible employer-friendly process.

The use of the term “reasonable manner” is always deemed as a grey area when having to deal with certain situations. However, Acas has come to the aide of employers by producing a code of practice on Handling in a Reasonable Manner Requests to Work Flexibly and an accompanying guide.

Although the process outlined in the code is not statutory it will be taken into account by employment tribunals when determining whether or not an employer has dealt with a flexible working request in a reasonable manner and therefore whether it should have to pay compensation as a result of unreasonable handling of the request. How should flexible working requests be handled on or after 30 June 2014? 
Full details can be found within the code itself but in summary the process for handling all flexible working requests should be:

  • Upon receipt of a written request, you should arrange to meet with the employee to discuss it as soon as possible. Please note that there is no longer a statutory right to be accompanied to any of these meetings, including appeals, but best practice states that this should be offered.
  • If you intend to approve the request without the need for a meeting with the employee then a meeting is not necessary.
  • All requests should be considered in a non-discriminatory way and can only be rejected for one or more of eight specific business reasons (which remain unchanged from the previous legislation).
  • You must inform employees of the decision in writing as soon as possible. If the request is accepted (even with modifications) then you should discuss when and how the changes will be implemented.
  • If you reject the request you must provide reasoning in writing and allow the employee the right to appeal. Any appeal meeting should also give the staff member the right to be accompanied.
  • The overall time period from receipt of the request to completion of the process (including any appeal) must be no longer than three months, unless an extension has been agreed by the employee.
HR Insight Viewpoint This change is likely to mean an increase in applications for flexible working and it will be essential that requests are managed in a fair and equitable way, so as to minimise the risk of employment disputes developing.  If you already have a policy in place, you should review it in order to reflect the changes in how to deal with new requests, to ensure you are following the new guidelines. Click here to download a free policy from HR Insight.