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UK – More flexibility to deal with flexible working

23 January 2014

The Advisory, Conciliations, and Arbitration Services (ACAS) yesterday published its response to the government’s consultation and statutory Code of Practice for UK employers. The Code helps to clarify the forthcoming changes to flexible work, reports global law firm, Eversheds.

The most notable clarification is an extension of the right to all employees, not just parents and carers, who have worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more, to request flexible working arrangements. There is also clarification on a replacement of the current statutory procedure through which employers consider flexible working requests, with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner, and within a reasonable period of time.

These changes were due to take effect from April 2014, but that target date has now been pushed back to an undecided date. The Code is currently in draft, as it is still awaiting Parliamentary approval. However, according to Evershed, the reality is that it is now unlikely to change.

Naeema Choudry, Partner at Eversheds, commented: “The plan to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees divides employers, with some strongly supportive and others feeling that the extension is a step too far. Although most employers will welcome the move away from a rigid timetable for considering requests, some employers will worry about how to deal with multiple and competing requests when not all can be accommodated.”

“A decision to refuse a request can in some cases lead to claims of discrimination, with potentially unlimited compensation. This means that it is essential for employers to develop a consistent approach across a workforce, so that all requests are treated fairly, or risk an increased exposure to claims.”

“Employers will also, in due course, need to review their current policies and procedures in light of these changes to check that they are 'fit for purpose'. Employers whose procedures reflect the current, more prescriptive regime, may wish to amend them to allow for the more flexible approach taken under the Code, and policies will need to reflect the fact that all employees, not just those with caring responsibilities and those with children under a certain age, will be able to make requests provided they have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service,” Ms Choudry concluded. 

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