Alan Lewis, head of employment at Linder Myers Solicitors, on what employers need to know about the forthcoming changes to flexible working rights

From the 30th June 2014 all employees with more than 26 weeks continuous employment, regardless of whether they have children or not, will have the legal right to make a Flexible Working request which is a significant change.

This can work to the benefit of both parties if balanced well with the needs of a business and can go a long way in boosting staff morale and loyalty.

The key points for employers to be aware of to ensure legal compliance is that each request must be given careful consideration and should be discussed with the employee. A decision one way or another also needs to be made within three months of receiving a written request as a legal requirement.

The needs of businesses are protected alongside these changes and employers can reject a request if the decision is based on one of eight strictly prescribed business reasons. This may be that agreeing to the change would place a financial burden on the business or if accepting the request would prove detrimental to service levels or the ability of the business to meet customer demand.

It is likely that many of the requests received by employers from next month will be for minor changes to accommodate employees’ commitments outside of work which will not have a negative effect on fulfilling the requirements of their role. This could include requests for a small shift in a working pattern with a slightly later start time balanced with a later finish for example.

The new legislation allows for employers to reject Flexible Working requests based on one of the following prescribed reasons only:

1. If accepting the request would incur significant additional costs for the business

2. The inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff i.e. if a full time employee requests a significant reduction in hours to fulfil the same role

3. The inability to recruit additional staff to cover any shortfall in the change of hours requested

4. If the proposed changes would prove to have a detrimental impact on the quality of the work or service being delivered

5. The change would have a negative impact on performance

6. The request would make it difficult or impossible for the business to meet customer demand

7. There is an insufficient amount of work to fill the hours proposed in the request

8. The request is not aligned with any planned structural changes to the business

The key is to communicate the details of how to make a Flexible Working request to all qualifying employees well in advance of the changes coming into force at the end of June highlighting that all requests will be considered against the backdrop of the reasonable needs of the business.

This avoids any confusion in the long term and sets out clear parameters from the start which should prove an effective way to minimise unreasonable requests and avoid placing an unnecessary burden on resources.