Flexible Working Changes – What does this mean for small businesses?

Significant changes have been made to the right to flexible working from 30 June 2014. These have received much media coverage. However, what has changed and how does it affect small businesses?

Every employee will have the right to request flexible working provided they have been employed for 26 weeks (some employers may offer this before the 26 weeks have elapsed). Before the change, flexible working arrangements were only available to parents and certain carers. The basic processes are:

  • The employee writes to the employer
  • The employer considers the employee’s application and must make a decision within 3 months of the request
  • If agreed, the employer must change the employee’s contract of employment
  • If the employer disagrees, then the employer must write to the employee, stating the reasons for the refusal
  • Only one application for flexible working can be made by each employee each year.

Upon writing the letter to the employer, the employee must consider how flexible working will impact on the company and how their absence could be dealt with. The employee must also state when they would like the new arrangement to start and how they will go about working flexibly.  According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), it would be good practice for the employer and employee to meet and discuss the request for flexible working.

An employer must give due consideration to the employee’s request and can only refuse the application for any of the following reasons:

  • Burden of additional costs
  • Inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • Inability to recruit additional staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality and performance of the company
  • Inability to meet customer demand
  • Insufficient work during the proposed working hours
  • The business is planning changes to its workforce.

If a dispute remains following meetings and discussions, the next steps should be:

  • Following the employer’s internal grievance procedures
  • Seeking advice from an external consultant – lawyer, ACAS, Union Rep etc.

If the matter remains unresolved then the legal system is available, with the first stage being an application to the employment tribunal. ACAS can provide guidance on this.

It goes without saying that if an employer or employee is unsure of their rights, they should get legal advice.  Please note this blog does not propose to cover all rules and regulations surrounding the flexible working arrangements nor should it be interpreted as doing so.

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