The majority of employers say they grant flexible working requests, according to research published this week, but lawyers say an increasing number are coming to them looking for ways around the legislation.
The conflicting picture is backed by Workingmums.co.uk’s experience. While our annual surveys show the majority of employers do grant flexible working, in the last few months it has been receiving a growing number of requests for advice from mums who have had their flexible working requests turned down, often for reasons which appear to show the employer has not given them due consideration. This is particularly the case for people seeking part time work or for those who want to change from rotating to set shift patterns due to childcare concerns.
However, this week’s XpertHR survey found that 79% of respondents grant between 75% and 100% of requests from employees to work flexibly, while almost half (48%) said that up to 20% of their staff work flexibly. Next year the Government is due to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.
XpertHR asked employers which of their employees currently have the opportunity to request flexible working – three-quarters said they currently consider requests from all employees, while one in five (21%) said they only do so in respect to those employees who already have a statutory right to request flexible working.
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Almost half (49%) of respondents said they think the 2014 statutory change will have no impact on them, four in 10 (41%) believe the number of flexible working requests will increase slightly, and just one in 20 (6%) predicted that the number will increase considerably. The remainder of respondents said they were unsure of the impact.
XpertHR researcher and author of the report Rachel Suff said: “In practical terms, it appears that most employers are well prepared for the forthcoming legal change extending the right to request flexible working.”
The research found the three most common flexible working arrangements are: part-time hours (47.8%); flexitime (23.4%); and variable start/finish times (13.2%).
It also explored the issues faced by employers when trying to implement an effective flexible working policy. The difficulties experienced focus on the following five areas:
– complexity of scheduling working hours (cited by 39% of employers);
– difficulty arranging meetings (36%);
– resentment from employees not working flexibly (23%);
– internal communication difficulties (21.%); and
– difficulty arranging training (18%).
However, the majority of respondents also identified a number of advantages in offering flexible working – the main three being improved retention (cited by 65%), increased employee commitment (63%) and flexibility of cover (47%).
Nevertheless, Tracey Guest, an employment lawyer at Slater & Heelis and one of Workingmums.co.uk’s legal experts who has been answering many of our recent queries, said that her firm had advised a number of employers recently who had received requests for part time working from their staff. She said: “We obviously advise about the procedure that they need to follow and that they need to have specific reasons for denying a request to work part time [there are eight grounds on which a request can be refused]. That said, if the employer does not wish to accommodate the part time working, they can usually find that they can refuse the request on one of the permitted grounds, for example “detrimental impact on performance or quality”. The permitted grounds for refusing are very general and therefore the law does not assist working mums in this respect.”
She added that she also felt many working mums accept the decisions so they can keep their job in the current economic climate rather than risk challenging them. She said: “If a woman is not happy, they tend to look for a new job, as opposed to looking at bringing a claim for sex discrimination/failure to comply with the flexible working request procedure.”
What’s your experience? Let us know at [email protected].