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Commission urges extension of right to flexible working

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After the coalition government's pledge that all employees should have the right to flexible working, a report by the Flexible Working Commission, released today, suggests there should be a clear option for employers to use trial periods for flexible work arrangements.

The report recommends the extension to all employees of the right to request flexible working and that any regulation must be as clear and concise as possible, laying out the full extent of obligations employers must meet, using language that avoids debate around the process to be followed.

The commission felt that such a fundamental change in workplaces, founded on a comprehensive understanding of the business case for flexibility, was central to expanding the scope and implementation of flexible working practices among UK businesses. It did suggest that such cultural change is impossible to legislate for.

The commission chair, David Frost, told HR magazine that companies are starting to open up to the benefits of the right to flexible working: "Employers are having a greater control over cost and they are increasingly using options such as reduced hours and part-time staff.

"We would welcome a trial period for employers, but a lot more work needs to be done to be able to implement this," said Frost.

As it stands, there is no universal right to work flexibly, but the law requires employers to "seriously consider" an application to work flexibly from staff who have a caring responsibility and may only reject the application on the basis of a legitimate business reason. Most of the businesses the report spoke to have a demonstrable interest in flexible working and have well-established flexible working practices.

Head of HR at nuclear and technology firm Nuvia, Jon Goodchild, said: "If the right to request didn't exist, we'd be just as flexible."

Managing director at engineering firm Crofton, Steven Hale, said: "As a small business, if the right to request is extended, we would insure ourselves against the risk and then follow the list or process the insurer put down. We would add to our employee insurance. We are simply not prepared to carry that risk."

The report also found that arrangements made outside of the right to request are not so rigid and can flex in line with the needs of both employers and employees. They also provide more scope for trial periods and encourage a constant dialogue around how the flexible arrangement is working for both parties.

The Flexible Work Commission – part of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) – carried out the research into flexible working among UK companies including including BT, Jaguar and BSkyB.