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Legal-ease: Flexible working for parents

Easing childcare costs with flexible working arrangements

In a report from the British Chambers of Commerce, which surveyed more than 1,600 UK business leaders, more than one in four said that employees have cut their hours because of the high cost of childcare, and nearly 10% said some staff had quit altogether because of childcare costs.

The government plans to double the entitlement to free early education and childcare (for three- and four-year-olds) by September 2017. This measure will probably lead to an increase in flexible working requests from parents who may have otherwise decided to cut hours or leave work entirely.

The flexible working request procedure allows employees to request changes to their working hours, working times or location. If granted they become permanent changes to terms and conditions.

All employees have a statutory right to request flexible working. The only eligibility criteria are that:

  • They must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment; and
  • They must not have made another request within the last 12 months.

Employers must consider requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. The ACAS Code of Practice on Handling in a Reasonable Manner Requests to Work Flexibly and accompanying Guide will assist employers to comply with the requirements and reduce the risk of paying out compensation as a result of unreasonable handling of requests.

  1. Upon receipt of a written request arrange to meet with the employee (giving the right to be accompanied) to discuss it as soon as possible.
  2. If you intend to approve the request then a meeting is not necessary.
  3. Requests can only be rejected for one or more of eight specific business reasons: burden of additional costs, inability to reorganise work among existing staff, inability to recruit additional staff, detrimental impact on quality, detrimental impact on performance, detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work, or a planned structural change to your business.
  4. Inform the employee of the decision in writing as soon as possible. If the request is accepted (or accepted with modifications) discuss when and how the changes should be implemented.
  5. If rejecting the request give the reasons in writing and allow the employee to appeal (with the right to be accompanied).
  6. The overall time period from receipt of the request to completion of the process (including any appeal) must be no longer than three months, unless the employee has agreed to an extension.

If you do not already have a written policy on flexible working it is recommended you put one in place. Employers are required to advise their employees of how to make a flexible working request and the information that must be provided.

Nina Robinson is a director at ESP Law, which provides HR magazine's HR Legal Service