As of 30 June 2014, all employees now have the right to ask their employer for a change to their contractual terms and conditions of employment in order to have flexible working arrangements, irrespective of whether or not they have dependants. Previously, the right only applied to the parents of children under 17 (or 18 in the case of parents of disabled children) or to those with caring responsibilities for an adult. The only condition employees must now meet is that they have been continuously employed for a period of 26 weeks at the date on which the request is made.
The right afforded to employees is only to make a request and, in turn, the employer must consider it. There is no absolute right to have flexible working arrangements put in place.
To coincide with this change, the statutory procedure for considering requests is removed and replaced by an ACAS Code of Practice containing guidance on an employer’s duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner and to reach a decision within three months (unless an extension is agreed). However, employers have the flexibility to refuse a request on business grounds.
The Code of Practice and revised ACAS guidance on the right to request flexible working can be found at www.acas.org.uk
If an application for flexible working is made, the employer should consider it carefully, looking at the benefits of the requested change in working conditions for the employee and the business and weighing these against any adverse impact on the business in terms of the possible costs or logistical implications of granting the request.
In reaching a decision, an employer must be careful not to inadvertently discriminate against particular employees because of their protected characteristics, thus exposing themselves to a claim under the Equality Act 2010, for example by failing to agree to flexible working arrangements where this would be a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee.
In addition, an employer must ensure that part-time workers are treated consistently with other workers as the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 make it unlawful to treat part-time workers less favourably as regards their contractual terms and conditions than comparable full-time workers, unless the different treatment can be justified on objective grounds.
Employers who have an existing policy for handling requests for flexible working should ensure this is updated in light of the changes. Employers who do not should consider introducing a policy as this can assist in ensuring consistency of treatment across the workforce.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.