Small Businesses Should Consider Flexible Working Extension

FlexibleJo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat Business Minister, has suggested that the right to request flexible working should be extended so that commuters could be allowed the right to request flexible hours so that they can avoid the rush hour.

Miss Swinson, the Lib-Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire, said, in a Commons Business Committee inquiry into women in the workplace, that working parents should have priority in a business when it comes to flexible working.

Additionally, ministers want workers who have interests that might clash with work, to also have the right to request flexible hours.

The thinking behind this extension is that there can be issues in the workplace where employees with children are seen to have more rights than those without children.

Employers have the right to turn down any requests but they do need to demonstrate a good business case for doing so..

Since 2003 employers have had the duty of offering flexible working hours to workers who are parents of young children under the age of 6 or employees who have a disabled child.

In 2009 the right to request flexible working was extended to cover workers whose children were under the age of 16.

The law on this aspect of flexible working gives 10 million people the right to request flexible working hours.

The changes to the flexible working laws will come into force in April 2014 and are expected to affect a further 10 million workers, bringing the total number of employees with the right to request flexible working up to 20 million.

The proposals will cover employees who have at least six months service.

Already there have been reactions from business organisations.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) have called the proposals to allow workers to avoid peak-hour congestion as “pretty silly” with Alex Jackman, the Forum’s Head of Policy, adding:

“Small businesses shouldn’t have administrative complexities thrust upon them because our roads are congested and often poorly maintained, the rail network is bursting at the seams and lacking adequate rolling stock. It’s just nonsensical.”

Jackman further damned the transport system in the UK by saying:

“The notion workers should be allowed to pick and choose their hours because of successive governments’ failure to deliver credible improvements to the country’s transport infrastructure is ridiculous.”

Jackman also highlitghted that businesses might have to open for longer hours just to accomodate flexoble workers, saying that a 9-5 business might end up catering for both early and late workers, opening from 7am until 7pm and adding a further 4 hours. In this case Jackman focused on the extra costs of running a business, chiefly energy costs.

Other points included keyholder responsibilities, the monitoring of timekeeping and the additional burden to the HR department.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also expressed concern at the policy changes on flexible working with Policy Advisor John Wastnage saying:

“We support the concept of flexible working and most employers already offer flexibility unless there is a business reason why they cannot. The extension of the right to request flexible working will not affect the likelihood that an employer will accept a request, but simply adds a bureaucratic procedure that costs business time.”

Wastnage also believes that there is another fundamental issue with the new rules, in that offering flexible working hours to more workers will make it harder for those in real need;

“Employers can rarely offer total flexibility to all employees so each proposed extension further reduces the employer’s ability to accommodate those with a genuine need, such as a caring duty, over those who are simply seeking greater convenience.”

Jo Swinson MP said that employers who offered flexible working had return rates, for mothers returning from maternity leave, as high as 99% where employers who were less flexible saw return rates as low as 50%

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See the other small business news stories: Flexible Working: Good for your Health and Work-life Balance for Small Businesses.

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