Businesses prepare for flexible working changes, says employment lawyer

Plans to give workers more rights to request flexible working could impact on the way businesses operate, a leading employment lawyer has warned.

Joanne Stronach, Head of Employment Law and HR at Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors, said employers needed to be prepared for the new legislation which will give workers the right to request flexible working from the first day of their employment.

Currently, new employees have to wait 26 weeks’ before they can request a change to their working hours, times or location but the new rules will allow requests from day one.

Joanne said: “The new rules aim to ensure more people can access flexible working and support employees who balance commitments such as caring for children or older people with working.

“For employers, it means thinking carefully about how roles can be fulfilled within their business and whether they can accommodate flexible working within their team and if so, what form it could take.

“Flexible working isn’t just about working from home. It covers a variety of situations including job sharing, flexitime and working compressed, annualised or staggered hours.

“While employees have the legal right to request flexible working, they do not have a right to be given it. Whether the application is accepted will be dependent on the business needs at the time of the request.

“However, employers do need to hold open and constructive conversations with employees about flexible working options and try to accommodate requests and find solutions where possible.”

Joanne said businesses could potentially be faced with a scenario where they advertise and appoint a full-time, office-based role only to receive a request for flexible working on the first day of employment.

“This is a big change for employers which could potentially create difficult situations for businesses to manage,” she said. “My advice is make sure you are aware of the legislation before it comes into force and consider ways in which you could potentially introduce flexible working within your business. By embedding it within the culture of your business, you are widening the pool of applicants during the recruitment process by reaching those who will benefit from flexible working, as well as creating a working environment for your wider team which supports higher productivity and staff retention.”

The Employee Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, which is currently passing through the Houses of Parliament, will also enable employees to make two flexible working requests within 12 months rather than one; reduce the deadline for employers to respond to flexible working requests from within three months to two months; require employees to consult with employees before rejecting an application for flexible working; and remove the requirement for employees to explain the effect of their application.

Joanne works with businesses and organisations across Cumbria, Northumberland and nationally, as part of Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors Business Services team.

Cartmell Shepherd has six offices at Rosehill Carlisle, Carlisle city centre, Brampton, Haltwhistle, Penrith and Cockermouth, with the firm’s full range of legal services available from all of its offices, delivered by its team of 35 solicitors.

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