Work flexibility is made law

Employers are set to receive half a million extra requests a year for
flexible working from parents following proposals announced by the Trade and
Industry Secretary last week.

The new rules, based on recommendations by the Government’s Work and Parents
Taskforce, mean that employers will have a legal obligation to consider
requests by working parents for more flexibility.

Employers welcomed the measures but raised concerns over whether they would
generate more red tape.

The taskforce estimates that 80 per cent of requests will be solved during
discussions between employee and employer and claims that only 1 per cent will
be decided by tribunal.

The EEF’s deputy director of employment policy, David Yeandle, said the
suggestion that 80 per cent of requests will be solved in talks between
companies and staff may be optimistic and believes that Acas will need more
resources to help mediate.

Mike Taylor, group HR director at Lorne Stewart, is worried the measures
will lead to unnecessary bureaucracy. "To set up this bureaucratic audit
trail is unnecessary," he said.

Bruce Warman, HR director at Vauxhall, backed the flexible working rules,
but added, "I hope that bureaucracy won’t be a big problem."

Many HR professionals feel the DTI has taken a common-sense approach. Mike
Emmott, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, welcomed the move but also
backed the employers right to refuse. "The institute welcomes the emphasis
on sorting out concerns about flexible working through discussion," he

Professor George Bain, taskforce chairman, believes the proposals will
enable employers and employees to find a compromise.

By Ross Wigham

New guidelines for flexible working requests  

– Parents with children under six
will be able to submit a request if they have worked at the firm for six months

– An employee must submit the request in writing

– The firm must then give the request serious consideration,
making a business assessment

– The employer must report back at a meeting within four weeks

– If a request cannot be accepted employers must explain the
business reasons in a letter

– The employee has the right to dispute the decision in-house

– The employee can then go to a tribunal

How companies must justify the
business case

Employers should give clear business
reasons justifying the rejection of a request based on:

– Burden of extra costs to business

– Inability to meet customer demand

– Inability to organise work within available staffing

– Detrimental effect on performance

– Inability to find extra staff

– Other reasons – to be specified


Clare Chapman, group HR director,

"In principle, we support the Government’s legislation to
help parents balance their work and home lives. However, we are concerned that
the extent of the legislation is against the spirit of what it is intended to
achieve. We think the way it will be implemented will remove much of the
flexibility that employers seek to embrace through existing HR policies and
will produce additional challenges to the way they do business."

Bruce Warman, HR director, Vauxhall

"It seems like a workable and reasonable solution. The
other idea, that parents get the automatic right to flexible work, was a total
non-starter. On a production line it can be difficult, but you have to work at
a compromise."

Bob Watson, HR director, Bupa

"Requiring employers to give requests for flexible work
serious consideration is open to all sorts of interpretation. It seems it has
been left to tribunals to do it. From our experience it is parents with
children of school age who require greater flexibility rather than those with
children aged under six."

Ralph Tribe, HR director, Getty

"It seems like sensible legislation. All it’s doing is
preventing bosses being totally unreasonable. I don’t think it’s red tape
because if someone raised a legitimate enquiry you’d respond formally anyway.
Issues around family care are sensitive and should be dealt with formally."

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