Flexible Working – Can you have your cake and eat it too?

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Employment Law on Monday, December 14th, 2015

As a nation we are supposedly moving towards a more family friendly and flexible attitude regarding working hours, working patterns and place of work. This is evidenced by the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) in April 2015 and the announcement that the Conservative Party will consult on the transfer of SPL to grandparents in 2016 with a view to implementation in 2018. It would seem that it is the government’s intention for both parents to be able to raise a family and work managing the two effectively by way of flexible working patterns and sharing the benefit and burden of time off for childcare.

Despite the legislation moving towards enhanced flexibility and the government extolling the virtues of working parents and developing a work life balance does this work in reality? Is it possible to successfully balance work and home life without any sacrifice?

Another important question to consider is the feasibility of flexible working provisions on small and medium sized employers. Larger employers have greater resources to manage a flexible and varied workforce but this is not the case for smaller businesses who need a core backbone of workers/employees that maintain core hours to maintain consistency.

This is not to say that flexible working and work life balance cannot be achieved in small business. Quite the contrary, it can just sometimes be an additional administrative burden. But, if the process is well managed and both the employer and the employee are open, honest, communicative and flexible, it can work quite successfully.

The key to dealing with requests for flexible working or SPL is adhering to the requisite statutory and internal process and ensuring good communication with the employee who has made the application. Processing matters in a timely fashion works to ease frustration, and shows efficacy and willingness to accommodate on the part of the employer.

There is no obligation on the part of the employer to accept a request for flexible working but any rejection must be in accordance with the grounds set out in section 80G(1)(b) of the Employment Rights Act and as set out in the Acas guidance. The employer must be able to back up any rejection with evidence which falls in line with the permitted reasons for rejection.

Employers should be open-minded to different working patterns and not simply dismiss any request out of hand. It may be that an employee proposes to job share, start the day earlier or finish later or condense their hours over a shorter number of days. However the request is compiled and whatever it proposes it must be realistically considered and any rejection must be reasoned and fair. If the employer is willing to trial a flexible working pattern then they should put a time limit on the trial and ensure they review the position with the employee at the end of the period. Both parties should have the opportunity to give honest feedback and agree whether it is a manageable arrangement going forward.

Flexible working patterns and shared parental leave (between parents and grandparents) are a 21st century reality and more and more people want to successfully balance their work and home life without the nagging guilt that one is having a detrimental impact on the other.

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