Employer’s query: I’ve heard that there are new rights coming in to request flexible working, what will our obligations be?
Since April 2003, the parents of children under the age of six years (or 18 years if disabled) have had the right to request to work flexibly to enable them to balance their work and home commitments. Employers must seriously consider these requests, but are entitled to refuse if there are clear business reasons for doing so. From 6 April 2007, the right to request flexible working will be extended to the 2.6 million employees who care for adults in any of three categories. These are: spouses and civil partners, near relatives (including parents, adult children, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents, and equivalent adoptive, step and -in-law relationships) and anyone who shares a home with the employee.
The procedure for making the request will be straightforward and identical to that which currently applies to parents of young or disabled children. The central feature is holding a meeting with the employee to discuss the request openly before making a decision. If refusing the request, the employer must rely on any of the eight business reasons specified in the regulations. If the request is agreed, the change will be permanent, and the employer is perfectly entitled to reduce pay to reflect reduced hours.
Employers will need to have a clear written policy in the staff handbook to deal with this new right, so employees are aware of it, know the right procedures, and how they can expect their applications to be dealt with. Lack of knowledge could give employers a real headache, therefore, they are advised to consult their professional advisers as early as possible to avert potential problems.
- Justin Beevor, employment law partner at Mace & Jones Solicitors