From this summer, all employees who have 26 weeks’ continuous employment with the same employer will be allowed to ask for flexible work, with a simplified request procedure also set to be introduced.
Employers will subsequently have a duty to act within a reasonable timeframe for a request.
These changes to the flexible working landscape are being underpinned by a new statutory code and best practice guide; as produced by the conciliation service, ACAS.
When the right to request flexible working hours was initially introduced, only carers of children under the age of six – or disabled children under the age of 18 – were eligible. However, even at the infancy of the scheme an expansion was always likely; with a later extension to include individuals caring for adults and those caring for older children.
Flexible work requests can relate to changes in working hours, a change in working location e.g. working from home, flexi-time, job-sharing and term-time working.
The new procedure does not give any employee an immediate right to flexible or part-time work. Employers will still be in a position to refuse requests – or suggest alternative working arrangements – where they have good business reasons for doing so.
Business owners can refuse flexible working requests on the grounds of the additional costs incurred, negative effects on customer service, performance or overall quality and an inability to rearrange work among colleagues.
In summary, employers will be required to weigh up the benefits of their employee’s flexible working pattern against any “adverse business impact”.
In instances where employers have already opted to extend the right to request flexible working, reports indicate improved staff morale and retention levels. SMEs can benefit most from a flexible workforce as it helps to manage overheads and maintain a broader skill set across their business.
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