HOW WILL THE NEW FLEXIBLE WORK LEGISLATION AFFECT THE WORKPLACE?

AS OF 30TH JUNE 2014 EVERY EMPLOYEE WITH MORE THAN 26 WEEKS SERVICE HAS THE RIGHT TO REQUEST FLEXIBLE WORKING FROM THEIR EMPLOYER, BUT WHAT DOES THIS MEAN AND HOW WILL IT AFFECT THE WORKPLACE?

The right to request flexible working could see an estimated 20+ million asking to be considered for a variation in their working pattern including:

  • Working from home
  • Flexi-time hours
  • Job sharing
  • Shift working
  • Working from home

The right has been extended past parents and carers who were previously the only groups who had the right to request flexible working in an organisation that didn’t otherwise adopt a similar policy. The change is in light of recent revelations that flexible working is good for employee well-being and productivity and is expected by the government to be of particular interest to those approaching retirement age and the younger generation who are looking to fit in extra training or forms of education around their working life.

Unions and employment groups have welcomed the change alongside the government with Nick Clegg expressing his approval of the change.

“Modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow. It’s about time we brought working practices bang up to date with the needs, and choices, of our modern families” Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister

 

The change also falls in line with the “coming of age” of Generation Y, who have recently, or are just entering the workplace with a brand new set of ideologies and working methods that have already inspired changes in the workforce and the functionality of working spaces. There is no doubt that this generation will completely redefine what it is to work and how we do it and this is obviously something that is agreed with beyond their own generation, highlighted by this and other changes, such as the shared parental leave policy, due to pass next year.

However, although flexible working is a change that should appeal to almost every generation currently within the workforce, unlike some other changes that are not as widely supported beyond those in Gen Y, some are concerned about whether or not this change will actually boost morale, productivity and staff retention as well as predicted.

Because the new policy is only a right to request and not a right to receive flexible working, there have been clear regulations set out to ensure that employers consider requests fairly and this includes providing sufficient reasons for not being able to agree to the request which could be:

  • The additional costs to the company are unmanageable
  • The change may make the company unavailable to meet consumer demand
  • The reorganisation is impractical, unachievable or will cost the company too much time
  • The need to hire additional staff in order to fill the time left through flexible working

An employer must consider each request on it’s own merits and there is to be no bias or priority for parents or carers over any other employee asking for a form of flexible working. The regulations state that a company is liable to face a claim for indirect discrimination against either group if the ratio within their company is too heavily weighted towards one set of people without good reasons i.e, there are fewer parents/carers within the company than there are those without dependants.

Fraser Younsen, an employment law specialist highlights the problems that this may cause within the workplace.

“We’ve already seen an increase in the number of grievances filed by people who feel they are having to make up the work of colleagues working flexibly because they have children. With everyone able to request flexible working, the number of grievances is only set to rise”

 

As the FSB point out, competing requests could breed negativity and discontent within the workplace which, in turn, could have an impact on productivity, staff retention and morale.

The change could also have a negative impact on smaller businesses who may have to turn down requests by their employees due to the cost they may incur through making flexible working available. This my make it harder to attract and retain employees which could see small businesses struggle and possibly have to shut down, providing power and in some cases monopolisation to bigger corporate companies. This goes against recent shop local campaigns and will leave small business owners frustrated and those looking to set up an SME more wary of the implications and challenges they may face.

Once a right to flexible hours has been approved, the terms and conditions of employment are permenantly altered and cannot be changed back, unless otherwise agreed with the employer, so when considering requesting a change to your working pattern, it would pay to truly consider the impact that it could have on your life now and in the future, the impact it could have on the business and other employees (as well as your relationship with them), the ability to achieve your full potential, the impact on the productivity of your team and the ability to reach targets set by your employer.

Although many may see these changes as a welcome benefit, should employers do more than just fall in line with government regulations and consider extending and tailoring what is required of them legally to suit both their business and team and future-proof it?

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