As we all know, parents’ right to request flexible working in the workplace has been entrenched in law for over a decade. It’s a welcome development for many (if not all!) that that right has now been extended to nearly all employees.
On 30 June 2014, the pre-requisite for an employee to have caring responsibilities to be able to make a request for flexible working was abolished, as was the prescriptive statutory procedure that set fixed timetables for written requests and meetings. Now, any employee with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment is able to make a request for flexible working, for any reason, and the employer must respond with a decision within three months.
And this really does mean “any reason”. For example, if your employee (let’s call him “Daniel”) makes a request to work from home one day a week so that he can take the dog for a walk in his lunch hour, or another (in this case “Lorna”) makes a request to have Fridays off to do a 24 week sky-diving course, the Company must seriously consider these requests. While it’s inevitable that a Company would prioritise a request from an employee with childcare responsibilities or ageing parents to look after, the current advice from ACAS is that unless there is a good reason why an employer cannot afford or accommodate the request, all requests should be granted. ACAS guidance, although highly persuasive, is not necessarily binding on employment tribunals and we wait with interest to see how they will interpret the new right.
We are yet to see how many Daniel’s or Lorna’s come forward with requests in the coming months, and how employers will balance these requests with the more “deserving” requests in practice, but employers should be prepared. This includes considering how you could accommodate an increase in flexible working in your company and updating your flexible working policies, so employees are not misinformed. The Department for Business Innovation & Skills website have also just released a new downloadable flexible working application form on their website which may be of use as part of this update.