Addleshaw Goddard

UK 200 2013 position: 23

Flexible working: now you see me...

Flexible working for the masses comes into force on 30 June 2014. Anyone with 26 weeks’ continuous service will be able to apply to work flexibly regardless of the reason behind their request. In reality, many employers, particularly in the financial services sector, already extend their flexible working policies to all. So where is the magic? Is this legislative amendment really offering the workforce something new or is the right illusory insofar as it applies to employees without children or other caring responsibilities?

The introduction of workforce-wide flexible working will be accompanied by a statutory ACAS Code of Practice to assist employers. The code sets out the application procedure and the statutory grounds for refusing a request, both of which will be familiar to employers. It remains clear that the right to work flexibly is not guaranteed — the presumption that a request will be granted unless there is a clear business reason for not doing so has been removed from the final version of the code.

To complement the code, ACAS has also published more detailed non-statutory guidance in relation to handling competing and/or multiple requests. This is particularly important now that the right extends beyond those with protected characteristics. Employers are given two broad approaches: they can invite colleagues to co-operate to enable the employer to accommodate each request or they can seek the employees’ agreement to a random selection method, such as drawing names out of a hat. The latter suggestion is a surprising one that might incense employees for whom the request to work flexibly has far-reaching significance. If an employee’s childcare arrangements are predicated upon a certain working pattern being granted, the notion that the decision making should be left to chance is completely unacceptable…

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