Flexible working laws will not be extended to all employees

The government has ruled out legislation that would give flexible working rights to all employees.

Speaking at the launch of a report promoting work-life balance, employment minister Gerry Sutcliffe said that the government would not make “a checklist of legislation” to make sure companies offered flexible working to all employees.

Under current legislation, only parents with children aged under six or disabled children aged under 18 have the right to request flexible working, and their employers have a duty to consider their applications seriously.

The government is considering implementing some extensions to the law as part of a review scheduled for 2006, but Sutcliffe said more wide-ranging legislation would not help employers.

“I don’t want it to be a checklist of legislation,” he said. “Companies can get by without more regulations – legislation should be the minimum standard. We should be looking for a culture change – greater trust between employers and employees. That’s how I want to see things developing.”

Susan Anderson, the CBI’s director of HR policy, said any extension to the law needed to be introduced in phases. She said the first group of employees to be considered should be those with caring responsibilities.

Flexible working: the arguments for and against

Delegates at the HR Futures conference in London last week heard very different arguments over the benefits of flexible working.


Ralph Tribe, vice-president of HR, Getty Images

Offering flexible working to everyone is a key differentiating factor that sets Getty aside from other employers, according to Tribe.

“We think other organisations are frightened to promote a fully-flexible working environment – they are frightened of something that is unknown,” he said.

Getty found those offices with the most effective flexible working practices had low turnover and produced the highest revenue, Tribe said.

“It clearly is not something that interrupts business or makes it impossible to operate. It’s about playing more to the needs of the individual than the organisation,” he said. “You are getting an emotional connection [with staff] rather than just a business connection.”

Jonathan Donovan, head of employee relations, O2

“If people [who work outside the office] are taking the piss then it’s not about flexible working, it’s about your recruitment processes.”


Quintin Heath, HR director, Twinings

Heath said flexible working was simply “an HR tool” that could not be considered to have strategic importance and could, in fact, be actively detrimental.

“The problem is that when people don’t attend one place of work it breaks down normal day-to-day connections that people thrive on at work,” he said. “When you put distance between people, the social interaction breaks down.

“Misunderstanding and distrust creep in. People start thinking about a sole task rather than their overall contribution to business,” Heath added. “You need to be sure it’s right for your organisation – it’s not useful to most.”

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