Another week, another announcement from the Labour election campaign team on
the vote-winning issue of work and parents. This time the pronouncement is on
flexible working – a topic which finds favour with employees but is less well
regarded by business and HR practitioners. A CIPD survey of 453 HR
professionals published last week showed little support for mandatory laws on
flexible working and six out of 10 thought raising awareness on the issue is
the most effective way of getting employers to act.
HR will be relieved to hear that if Labour is returned to government this
week, it does not propose introducing laws to allow mothers returning from
maternity leave or new fathers an automatic right to part-time working. Instead
it has set up a task force on flexible working to report in November, headed by
the respected outgoing chairman of the Low Pay Commission, Professor George
One of the most contentious areas it will examine is a proposed "harm
test" business will have to follow when an employee asks to work fewer
hours. All good employers will listen carefully to such an employee’s request
and will need to justify reasons for refusing it.
However, HR managers know flexible working can benefit the business as a
whole, especially in sectors which employ a high number of female staff or
where there are acute skills shortages – but some jobs are more suitable for
flexible working than others.
If this is all that is in the harm test proposals then it will not be too
painful. What HR does not want is a rigid bureaucratic test imposed on them,
which dictates exactly what they can and cannot do. Then they will rightly
complain about more red tape for business.