what do the proposed adjustments imply?

A session on the Authorities’s proposals to offer all staff the precise to request versatile working from day one has been launched.

For employers, the proposals additionally embody having to reply to requests sooner than the present three months most and supply various choices following a refusal. Matt McDonald, employment associate at legislation agency, Shakespeare Martineau explains what these potential adjustments imply for the way forward for the office.

A part of a manifesto dedication in 2019, the Authorities is endeavor this session to reform versatile working rules and to reply to proposals from the Good Work Plan: Proposals to help households session (July 2019). Since 2014, when the precise to request versatile working was opened to the entire workforce, there hasn’t been a noticeable enhance in requests. This session goals to deal with this reluctance and make versatile working the norm for extra companies.

Presently, after 26 weeks of steady service, each worker has the precise to make one versatile working request per 12 months. As soon as a request has been made, whether it is rejected, the particular person should then anticipate 12 months earlier than submitting a brand new request.

Employers have three months to reply, and may they determine to reject the request, they need to present a number of of the legitimate causes for rejection, as acknowledged by the Authorities. These embody: the additional prices will harm the enterprise, the work can’t be reorganised amongst workers, and high quality and efficiency might be impacted.

The session proposes to vary quite a lot of these rules and has 5 core elements, that are:

  • A day one proper to request versatile working
  • The re-evaluation of legitimate rejection causes
  • Enabling a couple of request per 12 months and lowering the deadline to reply
  • Employers having to counsel various preparations
  • Rising the usage of non permanent requests

Whereas not one of the proposals could be vastly impactful on their very own, if all or most of them are launched ultimately, employers should rethink their method to versatile working. The objective of the Authorities is in the end to normalise versatile working, and if profitable, companies ought to count on an uptick in individuals expressing curiosity on this approach of working. In sensible phrases, this could imply extra administration for employers to undertake, and an elevated likelihood of claims for any rejections.

When organized pretty, versatile working can profit each employers and staff. In spite of everything, blissful staff are sometimes extra productive. Nevertheless, for SMEs which will already be below appreciable time and monetary strain, it might be seen as an additional useful resource drain. With a possible enhance in requests on the horizon, it may be tempting to reject the vast majority of them, however SMEs should be cautious with this method. Not solely might this create a clumsy ambiance between employer and staff, but it surely is also reputationally damaging ought to phrase unfold. Many individuals these days are prioritising versatile working when in search of a brand new function, so displaying an unwillingness to think about it might be dangerous for recruitment.

In addition to creating reputational issues and a destructive enterprise tradition, rejections additionally enhance the danger of oblique discrimination claims. These may be introduced when staff are handled the identical, however this remedy disproportionately impacts staff with sure protected traits. The most typical instance is ladies with childcare obligations being extra negatively impacted by an absence of versatile working choices in comparison with male staff, with it being an accepted precept that ladies nonetheless bear the brunt of childcare obligations.

Staff may resign and declare constructive dismissal ought to they imagine that the refusal of their request was so unjustified that it has broken the employer/worker relationship past restore. In contrast to with discrimination claims, any worker with two years’ service can deliver a constructive dismissal declare, and while bringing a profitable declare is usually troublesome, it isn’t unattainable the place a versatile working request has been rejected unreasonably.

As issues stand, employers are usually not required to supply various choices for workers when a request is refused, however this might assist to reduce the danger of the above sorts of claims. For instance, attempting to fulfill the worker within the center by providing a brief quite than everlasting change. If an employer seems to be taking requests severely and is attempting to succeed in a compromise with their workers, then it’s much less possible that any claims made towards them will succeed and must also imply extra harmonious worker relations.

To organize for the outcomes of the session, which is because of finish on 1st December, employers ought to revisit their versatile working method. Even when some – or all – of the proposals aren’t taken ahead, flexibility has come to be anticipated by many staff, notably in in mild of the pandemic, so it needs to be integrated into an organization’s enterprise mannequin the place doable. If not, organisations might discover themselves struggling to recruit and retain expertise. Because of this, companies ought to reassess their priorities. Is it higher to have proficient workers working flexibly or individuals working inflexible hours which might be probably much less productive?

Employers may additionally need to think about agile working. Whereas this isn’t a legally outlined idea, it will possibly promote a constructive working tradition that’s extra ingrained than versatile working. In essence, agile working allows workers advert hoc flexibility (for instance, to go to appointments or decide up their kids from college) with out having to guide day without work to take action, with any misplaced time being made up on the worker’s comfort. Companies which have an efficient agile working tradition might even see fewer requests for versatile working and foster higher worker relations.

This session has undoubtedly began a dialog round versatile working, which is a constructive lead to itself. How most of the proposals are taken ahead stays to be seen, however employers needs to be ready for a rise in requests. In future, it might change into more and more onerous for employers to justify refusals, so now’s maybe the time to think about how finest to implement a tradition the place versatile working is handled because the norm.

Flexible working requests: what do the proposed changes mean for employers?