Flexible working report comes under fire

Employers’ groups have attacked a “one-sided” report that suggests flexible working legislation has not worked for many workers since its introduction five years ago.

A study of more than 5,000 calls to the helpline at charity Working Families, claimed that large numbers of employers had either ignored staff requests to work flexibly or had given unacceptable reasons for turning them down. One refusal given to an employee was: “The job can’t be part-time so you’ll have to resign”.

But Katja Hall, head of employment and employee relations at the CBI, defended employers and the impact the 2003 laws had on the workplace. “The report is a one-sided view of how the legislation is working – it has been extremely successful. Some jobs simply cannot be done on a part-time basis and so refusing the request could be for a valid reason,” she told Personnel Today.

CBI research has previously revealed that 95% of employers offered at least one form of flexible working, and 90% had accepted requests from staff.

Mike Emmott, policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), threw further doubt on the validity of the study: “While I’m not disputing the evidence of the survey, it does come across like a shopping list of ‘what could we ask for’ and I’m not totally impressed by that,” he said. “Employers are in a strong position and can give many reasons for refusing requests, but the majority are accepting them.”

But David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at manufacturers’ body the EEF, said: “It’s not surprising that of those who ring the helpline, many have complaints. There will always be dissatisfied people – but you never hear from the thousands of people who are happy [with the law].”

The EEF will publish its own survey on flexible working later this month, which, it claimed, would reveal a “very high” percentage of its members granted requests.

Reasons given to employees for refusing flexible working requests:

  • “The job needs a dedicated full-time person”

  • “It would set a precedent”

  • “The job can’t be part-time so you’ll have to resign”

  • “It will have a detrimental effect on quality”

  • “Inability to redistribute work among existing staff”.

Source: Working Families report

Walsh review into flexible working due soon

The government is set to publish its review into flexible working, led by Sainsbury’s HR director Imelda Walsh, within the next few weeks. The review will recommend what age of children the right to request should be extended to, and how the government should manage its introduction.

The EEF’s David Yeandle said he was strongly opposed to extending the right. “There are practical difficulties. It’s a challenge for managers to deal with requests and people being away from office,” he said.

The CBI agreed prioritising requests was difficult. Katja Hall said: “Our members have always said they accept the right to request should be extended. Smaller employers would prefer it staged – possibly to 12 and then 16-year-olds.”

The CIPD, TUC and Working Families have all called on the government to extend the right to request to all workers, not just those with children.

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