As of yesterday (30 June 2014), every employee now has the right to request flexible working hours. A right which was previously only available for those looking after children under the age of 17 (18 if the child is disabled) and certain carers.
Many trade unions and employment bodies have welcomed the move, which according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills now provides 20 million people with the right to ask to work more flexibly.
Flexible working is defined ‘as a way of working that suits an employee’s needs’ and includes examples such as flexible start and finish times, job sharing, compressed hours and working from home. To be eligible staff, must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks.
It is envisaged that the new right will be particularly popular among older workers approaching retirement and the younger generation staring out in work but who may want to combine further studies or training alongside their job.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills claims flexible working can make good business sense and helps individuals to find a better balance between work and commitments outside work. Businesses have reported benefits to their firms in allowing staff to adopt more flexible working practices. This includes more than half reporting an improvement in their relationship with their employees and staff motivation, 40 per cent reporting a boost in productivity and 38 per cent seeing a drop in staff absence.
The government has forecasted there will be 182,000 requests per year, with the new right accounting for 81,000 of the new requests. Out of these, 144,000 are forecast to be granted – 64,000 of which would be employees taking advantage of the extension of the right.
The benefits to business are predicted to come in at £55.8 million – outweighing the £39.8 million cost to firms.
Business minister Jo Swinson said:
“Extending the right to request flexible working will help to create a cultural shift towards more modern, 21st century workplaces where working flexibly is the norm.
“Firms that embrace flexible working are more likely to attract and retain the best talent and reap the benefits of a more motivated workforce. Employees will benefit from being able to balance work with other commitments in their lives.”
Employers must handle all flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable manner’ however they can refuse a request if there is a business reason for doing so. The reason given must be included in a list by Acas, which allows for eight grounds of refusal.
Acas has published new advice and guidance for employers to help them consider requests.