Square Circle: Focus on Flexible Working

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Focus on flexible working

All employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment have a statutory right to request flexible working. There is a legal requirement to complete the whole process within 3 months. Employers must seriously consider applications to work flexibly and only reject them if there are good business reasons for doing so. 

There are numerous potential benefits of flexible working which include: a happier, loyal, and more productive workforce; reduced sick days; attracting talent; avoiding redundancies; being a progressive company; listening to the needs of staff; potential savings on office costs and commuting time and costs; covering non-core working hours; encouraging a more diverse workforce, to name but a few.

The potential challenges include: difficulty dealing with competing requests to work flexibly; potential discrimination claims; possible resentment amongst staff who have had their requests denied whilst others have been accepted; feeling a lack of control and/or awareness of work that is being carried out in a flexible basis; loss of contact with colleagues limiting a sense of ‘team’ and exchange of knowledge and ideas; coordination of projects/meetings/phone calls.

A CIPD 2012 extensive survey of businesses reported that while the vast majority of employers offered some form of flexible working, they also reported that there are a number of barriers to flexible working arrangements.

The main barrier appeared to be operational pressures, others were maintaining customer/service requirements and line managers’ ability to effectively manage flexible workers. Smaller businesses reported less obstacles than medium-sized or larger employers but the biggest obstacle cited by smaller firms was financial constraints. Financial constraints were also felt to be more of a barrier in the public sector than the private sector.

A recent tribunal case in February 2016 (Hayley Burden v Hampshire Police Constabulary) awarded a female police officer £11,000 because she was unable to take up a promotion because she had children. This was deemed to be indirect discrimination because the employer insisted the promotion must involve working anti-social hours (more likely to impact on female workers because of childcare responsibilities), there was not sufficient justification for the requirement to work anti-social hours and no alternative options were considered.

Also making a promotion a full-time only post or stating that a management post has to be full time would likely be considered to be indirect discrimination.

The law states employees have the right to ask for flexible working – not the right to have it. Applications can be reasonably declined where there are legitimate reasons, however any employer would have to show their reasons and justifications, also that they sought alternatives, even allowing a request on a trial basis. Regardless of the size of an organisation such requests are not always straightforward, we would advise that any employer faced with a request for flexible working seek professional HR advice and especially before declining any request.

For more information on this article of any HR matter contact the team at Square Circle HR on 0141 248 7826 or e: info@squarecirclehr.com