The Government has postponed plans to amend the flexible working rules. The changes had been expected to come into force on 6 April 2014.
What is the current position?
Only employees with caring responsibilities are currently entitled to make a flexible working request. This means that the person making the request must have caring responsibilities for a child under 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) or for an adult (who is either a certain relative of, or who lives with, the employee).
Once an employer has received a flexible working request it is legally obligated to follow certain steps, such as meeting with the employee within 28 days to discuss the request (unless the employer agrees to the request) and writing to the employee within fourteen days of that meeting to confirm whether the request is then agreed or, if not, to provide one or more of the statutory grounds for rejection.
What are the proposals for reform?
The Children and Families Bill ("the Bill") extends the right to make a flexible working request to any employee who has 26 weeks' continuous service, irrespective of their caring responsibilities.
In addition, the statutory procedure described above for considering requests will be abolished. Instead employers will be required to consider requests reasonably. Although the definition of acting "reasonably" has not been defined within the Bill, ACAS have drafted a best practice guide to assist employers when they receive a request.
A revised target date of 21 March 2014 has been given for the Bill to receive Royal Assent. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has confirmed that the implementation of the new flexible working regime, originally scheduled for 6 April 2014, will be now delayed. A revised date has not yet been provided.
Comment and Practical Steps
Extending flexible working rights may place greater pressure on employers to be more flexible across the entire workforce, although the abolition of the statutory procedure arguably provides greater freedom. Accordingly employers should still be able to respond to requests in context of their own cultural and commercial needs. Many businesses already recognise the benefits that flexible working, if managed properly, can bring to an organisation and subsequently to the morale and values of the business. Indeed some businesses have already extended the right to request flexible working to all employees.
Employers may wish to hold off any plans to introduce the right to the wider workforce until the revised implementation date has been established. Once the new regime comes into effect employers may wish to review flexible working policies to remove the statutory obligations and to enable greater flexibility to respond to requests in line with the ACAS Code on best practice.