New Proposals For Flexible Working

New Proposals For Flexible Working

It has just been announced in the Queen’s Speech that the government propose to extend the right to apply for flexible working to all employees with children, possibly including children up to the age of 17. The intention is to allow parents to spend time with their children, perhaps when they move to secondary school and also during important exams. Currently employees can normally only request flexible working if they have a child under the age of 6.

An application for flexible working often means the employee asking to work part-time ( eg after returning from maternity leave) but it could involve asking for any sort of change in working hours or even other options such as working from home.

Employees have the right to request flexible working to care for a child under the age of 6 (or under 18 if the child is disabled) provided that they have 26 weeks continuous service. This was extended this year to include employees who care for adults who are relatives or live with them. It should be emphasised that the employee’s right is to request flexible working; there is not an automatic right for it to be granted.

At present, the employer does have several legitimate grounds for refusing a flexible working application, including the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff, detrimental impact on quality and performance and insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.

This does not mean, however, that the employer can always get away with refusing an application. The employer must produce a sound business reason as British Airways found out to their cost when one of their pilots, Jessica Starmer, who had made an application, was successful at the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The reaction to this case was a clear indication that flexible working was a serious issueGuide to Oaths and Affirmations for employers.

The CBI has supported the principle of extending flexible working but the Federation of Small Businesses expressed serious concerns. However, David Cameron has also pledged his support for extending flexible working rights and has accused the government of stealing his ideas (again). Therefore, these proposals are likely to remain on the agenda, so watch this space!

Hugo Trompiz is a specialist employment solicitor at Blocks and can be contacted on 01473 230033.