The right to request flexible working has historically been treated as a woman’s right associated with the needs of childcare, however the changing practicalities of modern business – where flexibility in working hours and arrangements is of increased importance – has resulted with the government responding with legislative change.

As of 30 June 2014 the statutory scheme relating to flexible working requests is being extended to any employee with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment, irrespective of whether they have caring responsibilities or not. In addition, the previous prescriptive statutory process for dealing with such requests has now been removed and replaced with a general duty on employers to deal with such requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.

Whilst the recent changes would appear to reflect a widening of employee benefits, an employee is only entitled to make one request in any 12 month period and an employer is still able to reject the application (within three months of receipt) on the basis of one of the eight prescribed grounds (including, among others, the burden of additional costs, a detrimental impact on quality and/or performance or due to planned structural changes).

The revised statutory scheme is supported by both an ACAS Code (which an employment tribunal must take into account when deciding complaints relating to the statutory scheme), as well as a non-statutory ACAS guide which provides more detailed general guidance.  Given that a breach of the scheme could expose an employer to a maximum award of eight weeks’ pay (subject to the statutory cap of, currently, £464 per week) it is wise for employers to familiarise themselves with both the Code and the Guide when dealing with a flexible working request.

OTB Eveling Comment:

  • In order to be able to deal with such requests in line with the recent changes, employers should review their flexible working policies to ensure they reflect the current position and ensure all managers dealing with such requests are aware of, and understand, the process.
  • Whilst the maximum compensation for a breach of the scheme is eight weeks’ pay, employers should be alive to the possibility of a discrimination claim when reviewing and responding to any flexible working request, as the compensation for such claims is uncapped.

If you have any questions relating to the recent changes or would like to discuss any appropriate amendments to your policies, please do get in touch with Sarah Luxmoore.