04 July, 2014
The Government have introduced new regulations in 2014 concerning flexible working. The new rules came into force on 30 June 2014.
Previously, a request for flexible working could only be made by parents of children under 17 (or 18 if the child was disabled) and certain carers. The new regulations will give any employee who has been employed for 26 weeks the right to make a request.
Under the old rules, the process for dealing with a flexible working request was very prescriptive and quite onerous on employers. They would have to meet with the employee within 28 days of receipt of the request and provide a written decision within 14 days of the meeting. Under the new proposals, the process will be simplified requiring employers only to consider requests in a reasonable manner and to notify employees of their decision within 3 months of receipt of the request, unless an extension of time is agreed.
If the employer decides to refuse a request for flexible working they will still have to show that the refusal is on business grounds and falls within one of the eight business reasons specified within the legislation.
The three month period during which to deal with the request and reach a decision appears at first glance to give a little more time to employers in dealing with such requests. In reality though, the whole process would usually take that amount of time, including any appeal. Employers will have to ensure that they do deal with the requests in a timely fashion and one wonders whether most employers will use the old regulations as guidance to allow them to deal with matters in a reasonable timescale.
Employers will also have to be aware as under the previous regulations they can still be subject to an award of eight weeks pay against them if they fail to deal with the request in a reasonable time. In addition, there is still a requirement for treating requests in a non-discriminatory way.
Employers may be concerned that the new rules will lead to a significant increase in requests for flexible working and it seems that only time will tell. What is certain though, is that employers need to be ready to deal with any such requests.