Employers must develop a consistent approach to flexible working requests, says Eversheds

Eversheds has commented on ACAS’s response to consultation and statutory code of practice for UK employers.

The code helps to clarify the forthcoming changes to flexible work, notably an extension of the right to request to all employees, not just parents and carers, who have worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more and a replacement of the current statutory procedure through which employers consider flexible working requests, with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable period of time.

These changes were due to take effect from April 2014, but that target date has now been pushed back and is not currently known. The code is currently in draft as it is still awaiting parliamentary approval. However, the reality is that it is now unlikely to change.

Naeema Choudry, partner at Eversheds, said: ‘The plan to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees divides employers, with some strongly supportive and others feeling that the extension is a step too far.

‘Although most employers will welcome the move away from a rigid timetable for considering requests, some employers will worry about how to deal with multiple and competing requests when not all can be accommodated. And although employees only have the right to ask their employer to consider flexible work arrangements, with a sanction of up to eight weeks’ pay, subject to the applicable statutory cap on a week’s pay, a decision to refuse a request can in some cases lead to claims of discrimination, with potentially unlimited compensation.

‘This means that it is essential for employers to develop a consistent approach across a workforce, so that all requests are treated fairly, or risk an increased exposure to claims.’