Firms face harm test for flexible working

Employers
could be forced to prove that flexible working would harm their businesses if
proposed Labour legislation is adopted.

Trade
and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers last week ruled out legislation allowing
parents to work part-time but proposed a right for all parents of young
children to request flexible work arrangements.

Byers
has appointed Professor George Bain, formerly of the Low Pay Commission, to
head a task force that will advise on the best way of implementing the new
regulation.

Bain
told Personnel Today that a "harm test" would be considered as a way
of assessing whether flexible working would damage individual businesses.

Bain
said, "The challenge is on the one hand balancing the right for women and
parents in general to have their request for flexible working reasonably
considered against the need for profitability and lack of economic disruption
on the part of the employer."

Mike
Emmott, employee relations advisor for the CIPD, claimed that a harm test would
not be an extra burden for employers. He said, "All employers asked by
employees about flexible working and changing their hours should look into the
possibility. All employees who are refused this change should know why this is
the case."

But
Mike Taylor, group HR director for construction company Lorne Stewart plc,
disagreed.

He
said, "We are an industry which has small HR departments. We have a
workforce of 2,500 and I would think it would be almost inevitable that I would
have to employ someone extra to deal with this."

A
recent CIPD survey shows that there is little support from the profession for
legislation on flexible working. Raising awareness was cited by 62 per cent of
the 453 HR professionals surveyed as the most effective way of getting employers
to act.

Measure
test

A
harm test has been adopted by employment tribunals when considering requests to
work part-time in cases brought under the Sex Discrimination Act.

The
following criteria are typically taken into account:


The work requires continuity of service


It is not possible to do the job at the times the employee wants to work


The employee has supervisory responsibilities and there are no suitable means
to delegate part of their responsibilities


The job involves teamwork


The cost of training someone else to do the remaining time or parts of the job
would be prohibitive


The nature of the work is such that it cannot be split

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