This extension of working parents' rights could result in a quarter of a million employees changing their working hours. At this time the proposals are continuing through the government legislative process but it has been confirmed that they intend to issue full guidance in good time to ensure that all businesses will be able to prepare for the change. It is likely that any future requests will follow the same procedure as the current legislation.
Since April 2003 parents of children aged six and under have had the right to apply for flexible working hours by following a specific procedure. Any parent making such a request must follow the procedure set out below:
- it is made as a request for flexible working, which should be submitted in writing (by letter, email or prescribed application form);
- it states that their child is under the prescribed age (six or under - 16 after 1 April 2009);
- it specifies the change in hours and the date from which the change would be effective;
- it explains what effect the change may have on their work and how this might be dealt with
There are grounds on which an employer can refuse any such application. These are prescribed in current legislation and provide an employer with an extremely wide scope for any refusal. These grounds are as follows:
the burden of additional costs;
- detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
- inability to re-organise work among existing staff;
- inability to recruit additional staff;
- detrimental impact on quality;
- detrimental impact on performance;
- insufficient staff to work during the periods the employee proposes to work flexibly; and
- planned structural changes;
An employer can agree to any such request immediately but they have no obligation to do so. A meeting could be arranged and should be held within 28 days of receipt of the initial application.
Any objections should be made on business grounds and not due to any employee's personal circumstances. Should any person believe that their request has been unreasonably refused they may have the basis for a tribunal claim and they should seek legal advice immediately.
The proposed amendments to current legislation are likely to cause all employers genuine concern and result in the incorporation of innovative new work patterns in the workplace to manage such requests.
Employers will need to consider whether earlier starting or later finishing hours may be possible or whether an employee's hours could be spread over more days than previously. Job sharing, home-working or staggered or compressed hours might be an option. Furthermore, whether or not any request is permanent should also be considered as a parent may only require a change to their hours for a fixed period of time.
Managed correctly, any change to flexible hours can work to the benefit of both the employer and the employee. This should be highlighted in any requests made by employees. Flexibility towards working parents promotes loyalty, encourages productivity and prevents a high turnover of staff. Parents feel a sense of security in having an adaptable employer and confident that they will be able to continue to work around the needs of their family.
Amy Fielding is an employment specialist at Vincents solicitors