SMEs quizzed on flexible working

Flexible Working Hours

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has called for small firms to respond to its proposals to streamline the flexible working process for businesses, following plans to extend the right to request flexible working to parents with children aged 16 and under.

Flexible Working Hours

According to BERR, the consultation is aimed at canvassing the views of businesses and highlighting ways to reduce the paperwork associated with flexible working legislation.

At present, employees have the right to request flexible working if they are parents with children under six or under 18 if they are disabled. But under proposals announced in the draft Queen’s Speech, the Prime Minister revealed that the Government is exploring extending the right to request flexible working to those with children aged up to 16.

Under current legislation, employers are obliged to arrange a meeting to discuss a request for flexible working within 28 days of receiving it. Fourteen days after the meeting the employer is required to deliver a decision in writing.

A request can only be refused on one or more permitted reasons (such as burden of additional costs, detrimental impact on quality, or inability to reorganise workload among existing staff) and employees must be informed how these apply to their case. There is then a 14–day period during which the employee can appeal, in which case the employer must organise another meeting 14 days after receiving the appeal.

Among other things, the consultation will review whether to scrap the requirement for firms to formally write to employees if their request has been accepted.

“We’re looking at ways to streamline the process of dealing with flexible working,” said a BERR spokesman. “Our feedback is that businesses – and small businesses in particular – often use an informal process to deal with flexible working, so we want to see if this would work,” he added. “We’re also looking to see whether the business community can throw up any suggestions on streamlining the current process from their own experience of dealing with flexible working.”

Forum of Private Business (FPB) spokesman Phil McCabe added:

“While flexible working may be attractive for employees, it is important to remember the rights of employers as well.

“The right for bosses to refuse flexible working requests for sound business reasons has to be preserved,” he said. “The FPB is in the process of drafting a response on flexible working.”

Work–life balance organisation Working Families welcomed the proposed legislation and the consultation. Chief executive Sarah Jackson said;

“The proposed extension of the right to request flexible working to parents of children who are under 16 will help many more families set up the combination of working and caring which their children need, and will also help many more employers to think and work more flexibly,”

Commenting on the suggestion that the Government might scrap the requirement that employers formally write to staff to advise their request has been accepted, she added:

“They need to be careful about reducing paperwork which is there to protect the interests of both the employer and the employee.

“Verbal agreements can be open to misinterpretation, and when the future of somebody’s job or the success of someone’s business is at stake, it is really important to have everything clearly recorded,” said Jackson.

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