Category Archives: flexible working

A Guide To The New Flexible Working Regulations

Flexible working for all was implemented on 30 June 2014.  Previously it was only available to flexible working A Guide To The New Flexible Working Regulationswomen with children and carers, now all employees with 26 weeks continuous service can make a request.  Many employers may be panicking at this prospect but there is no need as any request can be turned down for business reasons.  In this blog I provide a guide to the new flexible working regulations. 

There are quite a few changes to the procedure for making such a request, with the old, prescriptive, statutory regime being replaced by a “requirement to deal with the request in a reasonable manner”. This revised approach is reflected in a new ACAS Code.

The basic right to request flexible work is unchanged. Employees can still make up to one written request every year, which the employer can refuse on any of the existing eight business grounds. The maximum compensation for a failure to comply with the new legislation remains at eight weeks’ pay, with a week’s pay currently capped at £464 per week (2014).

Any request must now be dealt with quickly and within a three month time scale, at the end of which the employer must notify the employee of its decision. The ACAS Code recommends that employers should talk to an employee privately after receiving a written request, allowing employees to be accompanied at any discussion, then consider the request carefully before informing the employee in writing of any decision. The employer should then discuss with the employee how and when the changes might best be implemented or allow an appeal.

Although there is no requirement to allow an appeal, the ACAS Code suggests that employees should be allowed to appeal against a rejection. The appeal should be concluded, if possible, within the three month period. If more time is needed for any reason, a longer period should be agreed with the requesting employee. 

The employee must make a written application which should also:

- state that it is an application made under the statutory provisions;

– specify the change that the employee is seeking and when they wish the change to take effect; and

– explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks the change would have on the employer and how any such effect could be dealt with.

It might be beneficial for an employer to draft a standard template to accompany a revised policy on flexible working.

An employer can treat a request as withdrawn when the employee, without good reason, has failed to attend both the first meeting arranged by the employer to discuss the employee’s request or appeal and the next meeting arranged for that purpose. The ACAS Guide suggests that the employer should find out and consider the reasons for the employee failing to attend both meetings before reaching any decision to treat their request as withdrawn. Employers must notify the employee of their decision.

Employers retain the right to refuse a request to work flexibly on the existing statutory grounds, which include cost; quality; performance; insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; and planned structural changes. Although neither the Code nor the Guidance require it, employers should not only specify which of the statutory reasons applies when refusing a request, but also provide sufficient explanation as to why that reason applies. The Guidance gives examples of each of the business reasons.

Employers should also:

- Ensure any agreement to change employment terms is recorded in writing;

- Be very clear about what is being expected of the employee who will be working flexibly.  Trial periods can be used if an employer is unsure if the flexible working may not work.

- Review current policies and procedures and amend in the light of the current changes.

 

All requests should be treated fairly and consistently to avoid discrimination.  Keeping written records is essential.  

 

 

 

 

Shiftwork – the Pros and Cons

nightwork Shiftwork   the Pros and Cons

Source: Flickr/Seattle Department of Transportation

I was recently invited by BBC Radio Northampton to speak about shiftwork which is a form of flexible working.  In this blog I look at shiftwork – the pros and cons.

Shiftwork can take various forms – it can be just straight nights, as opposed to just working days.  The double day shift can be 6am to 2pm one week then 2pm to 10pm another week.  The continental shift can be a rolling timetable of an early morning shift, followed by an afternoon shift followed by a night shift.

For an employee shiftwork can have lots of advantages.  It may suit their lifestyle if they have no ties.  An employee can beat the traffic when working shifts as they may not meet peak hour traffic.  They can get stuff done – go to the bank, get their hair cut or the car MOT’d for example.  They can get their shopping done when other people are at work and the children at school.   They can attend appointments with the doctor or hospital and not need additional time off.  Shiftwork may work with an individual’s body clock and they can receive better pay as often the employer will pay a shift enhancement.

The downsides, however, can be they may not be able to use public transport to get to work and back home for example in the early hours of the morning.  Shiftwork could wreak  havoc on their personal and social life.  It’s no good if all the parties are taking place whilst you are at work and your partner might not be too happy.  It can wreck a person’s body clock causing tiredness and fatigue.  There could be a threat to health.  It has been reported that there is an increased risk of getting cancer when working nights regularly for example and individuals could be at risk of a vitamin D deficiency if they receive inadequate exposure to sunlight.

For an employer the benefits of shift work can be the ability to keep the production line flowing for example with a 24/7 operation which can meet customer demand.  With shift work an employer can provide continuous cover as is needed in the NHS and care homes for example.  Employers must however, be mindful of employment law related to shift work, notably health and safety and the Working Time Directive legislation.

Employers should do a health and safety risk assessment for night workers looking at workload activity, rest periods and breaks for example.  With the Working Time Directive employers should ensure there  is an eleven hour gap between shifts.  Employees should be given one day off every seven days or two days off every fourteen days.  Night workers should be given regular health checks.

 

Flexible Working – The Advantages and Disadvantages

From 2014 the government proposes to extend flexible working to all employees in an effort to promote economic growth through a strong and efficient labour market having undertaken a consultation exercise in 2011.  Flexible working was brought into force during 2003 and already parents and carers benefit from being able to make flexible working requests.  ACAS will be developing a Code of Practice on flexible working to support the new law.

The new legislation will replace the current statutory procedure where employers will need to consider flexible working requests within a specified time frame; employers will have the duty to deal with requests in a reasonable manner within a reasonable time frame.  This is being introduced as the government consultation identified that many employers find the existing statutory procedure too prescriptive and time frames inflexible. A statutory code of practice will give guidance on the meaning of reasonable.  Employers will be provided with guidance on how to tackle conflicting requests when received at the same time.  The current requirement to have 26 weeks qualifying period of continuous service will remain.

Flexible working can take many forms – part time working, term time working, job-shares, home-working, compressed hours and flexitime and brings with it both advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages to businesses include being able to hold onto valuable staff, having a wider talent pool, reducing absenteeism, increasing commitment from employees and improving productivity.  A business might also be able to extend opening hours due to the wider availability of the workforce. The government consultation exercise highlighted some employer concerns over the extension of flexible working such as an increased burden and threat of employment tribunals for increased declines in flexible working requests if they can not be accommodated.  Smaller businesses have to ensure they have enough staff available to cover the required hours.  This could be more difficult due to lower levels of employees compared to larger organisations. 

Flexible working benefits employees with a better work life balance so that they have more time to spend with their families or undertake hobbies. Childcare costs may also be reduced.  With employer permission they can travel into work and avoid rush hour traffic, therefore arriving more refreshed.  For those employees who are allowed to work at home all or part of the week, there are the benefits of reduced fuel and motor maintenance costs.

However flexible working without a supervisor being present may cause difficulties for some employees who may be unable to take the initiative or need direction with their duties.  Employees who are not personally motivated may struggle to stay on task and give the job “their all” so that productivity is affected.  Another disadvantage could be that communication and team working may be affected.

The government are confident that the introduction of flexible working for all with bring huge benefits to businesses as well as encouraging a more motivated engaged workforce.  Time will tell…..

 

How to Effectively Implement Flexible Working

According to a recent CIPD report the vast majority of employers offer some form of flexible working which can include part time working, term time working, job sharing, flexitime, annual hours, working from home, mobile/tele working and career breaks. 
The term flexible working describes a working arrangement that has some degree of flexibility on  how long, where and when employees work.  However, it is reported that only 63% provide the right to request flexible working requests, yet in accordance with the Families and Work Act 2007 they are required by law.  Working at home is the most commonly offered option. Large organisations are more likely to be able to accommodate requests compared to SMEs and flexible working is more common in the public sector.  Women are more likely to use flexible working compared to men with most taking up part time hours.
Some factors contributing to the increased interest in the use of flexible working include:
  • Its potential value as a recruitment and retention tool in a tight labour market.

 

  • The changing profile of the workforce (for example, with more women in the labour market and an ageing population it is increasingly common for workers to have caring responsibilities outside the workplace).

 

 

  • Advances in technology (facilitating, for example, remote working and hot desking arrangements).

 

 

  • An increasing need for businesses to be able to deliver services to customers on a 24/7 basis.

 

 

  • The economic situation – some organisations have offered part-time working or sabbaticals as a method of avoiding or minimising redundancies.

 

 

  • The increased demand for an effective work-life balance.

 

The benefits of flexible working can be much improved organisational performance, however, there can be barriers to its implementation. The main one appears to be operational pressures.  Other barriers that feature highly are a need to maintain customer/service requirements, inability to effectively manage flexible workers, existing organisational culture and the attitudes of senior managers. It appears there are more barriers for larger organisations than micro businesses.  The biggest obstacles can be the nature of the work and little relevance to the work.
When making a flexible working request an employer may refuse it for a business-related reason which includes:   
  • the burden of additional costs

 

  • detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand

 

 

  • the inability to reorganise work among existing staff

 

 

  • the inability to recruit additional staff

 

 

  • where it will have a detrimental impact on quality and performance.

 

Having a flexible working request refused can be quite a shock  to those who put in a request so employers should consider how to effectively communicate and implement flexible working.  The following tips may help: 
  • Establish a clear process for how flexible working works in the organisation.

 

  • Ensure that there are clear roles and responsibilities for employees, line managers and HR.

 

 

  • Assess the current levels of support offered to line managers and ensure it is sufficient.

 

 

  • Invest in ongoing communication and awareness raising.

 

 

  • Assess how conducive the organisation culture is to flexible working – and take action accordingly.

 

 

  • Make use of pilots (when introducing new initiatives) and trial periods (for individual flexible working arrangements) in order to highlight potential problems with flexible working arrangements.

 

 

  • Build in opportunities and mechanisms to monitor and evaluate progress with flexible working.

 

In addition, by providing a flexible working information pack that is given to employees containing lots of useful information on the process, provides further useful written communication.   The pack should contain a flexible working application form that allows the employee to describe the existing working pattern, the proposed changes, the impact the change would have on the role, workplace and colleagues with suggestions of how the impact could be dealt with.  This allows the employee to think through the implications for their request and to possibly overcome any rejection.   
In 2014 the government plans to extend flexible working practices to everyone and is currently consulting on this, therefore, it is really important, that employers get their act together and look at effective implementation as it is a powerful tool for staff commitment and retention. 



 
 

Now Everyone Can Have Flexible Working! But Will They?


Nick Clegg has just announced a big shake up with flexible working in the UK which is designed to help the economy get moving.  New mothers will be able to share leave with their partners and all workers will have the right to flexible hours.  Mothers could return to work two weeks after childbirth and hand over their leave to the father.  Parents will be able to split time between them or take time off together, as long as no more than 12 months is taken in total and no more than nine at guaranteed pay.  Fathers-to-be will also be given a legal right to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments.


Every employee in the country will also be given the right to ask for flexible hours to encourage different work patterns for parents and help more women back into work.  Grandparents will be able to apply so they could look after their grandchildren.  It is estimated that around a million women are effectively locked out of employment because of problems balancing work and childcare.


Flexible leave will be reviewed by 2018 and extending paternity leave will be re-examined then.

According to Clegg more and more men are taking on childcare duties, or want to, and flexible leave builds on that.


The entitlement to ask for flexible hours will be introduced in 2014 at the earliest and employers will have to provide good reason for refusing a request.  Currently flexible working can be refused to business reasons. 

However will this proposed radical reform of flexible working, work in practice?  Women continue to be the primary carer of their children and many are reluctant to give up arrangements that allow them to spend precious time with them.  Research in the past has shown that although men do enjoy spending time with their children, the majority find work a welcome refuge from family life. Furthermore in the UK unemployed fathers actually spend very little of their time with their children despite being able to do so.


The changes in the law are designed to give mother  a real choice in the work/life balance.  However flexible working is not always practical for companies.  Increased flexible working could cause major disruption which a small company may not be able to afford.

Growth in Part Time Working

The Office of National Statistics has today announced that many people in the UK are having to take part time work rather than full time when seeking employment.  The figure is at its highest level since records began 20 years ago.
Whilst it may be unfortunate that those people seeking full time work can only take up part time work, at least, they are in employment, keeping up their skills until hopefully the economy returns to normal and more opportunities for full time work returns.  They are also avoiding the benefits trap. 
Part time work as part of flexible working can, however, benefit both employer and employee.  For an employer it may be more effective to offer part time hours certainly keeping costs down which is important during these difficult economic times.  With a fixed budget an employer can still bring in skilled and experienced labour without breaking the bank. The use of part time labour can reduce pressure on full time employees and cut an employer’s overtime bill. Part time working can increase productivity and provide an advantage over competitors. 
Part time working can include working  shorter days or fewer days in the week, but also term time working and job sharing. Part time employees should be treated the same as any full time employees which includes offering the same terms and conditions and equal treatment.  Consideration to communication is key as part time employees need to be kept in the loop given they are not present in the workplace all the time.   
For an employee the benefits of part time working can be having a better work life balance, improved health and well being and time for other responsibilities.