Businesses need to prepare now for flexible working changes that could see an extra 4.5 million parents asking their bosses for time off, says Deminos.
From April 2009 the right to request flexible working is extended to parents with children up to the age of 16.
Currently flexible working law allows parents with a child under six, or a disabled child under 18 or ‘carers’ to make a request for flexible working.
This places a duty on employers to consider such requests seriously and only reject them for good business reasons.
The number of requests is set to soar with the age limit rising to 16, placing extra pressure on businesses across the UK.
Experts at national HR specialist Deminos, based on Tyneside, warn that if company bosses fail to handle these requests correctly, they could end up with a legal claim on their hands.
Neil Atkinson, director of Deminos, based on Gateshead’s Watermark business park, said that by taking a few preventative steps and preparing for requests in advance, companies can avoid any potential legal action.
He said: “There is no legal right to give people the time they ask for but you must respond correctly to their request. Employers have a duty to consider any applications for flexible working, but they can reject it for sound business reasons. But they can’t just say no – this is asking for trouble!
“For example, it may be that a request for a job share cannot go ahead as a small business could not find another person to share the post. However, every request must be considered on its own merit and in relation to the size of the employer.
“Employers should expect a deluge of requests when this becomes law next year, with millions of parents asking for more flexible working to cope with the demands of older children.”
More legislation is also in the pipeline with proposals that from 2010 employees will gain the right to request time off for training, potentially allowing up to 22 million workers in England to apply.
Neil Atkinson added: “This is an interesting one as you could have a situation where an employee requests time off to study or train to have a career change. An employer could in effect be actively helping that worker to leave the company!
“If this proposal becomes law, and it certainly looks that way, it will be another case of how a business responds to a request that will be important.”