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New Flexible Working Rights to Hit SME

business peopleThe latest peril for small companies

June 30th marks a watershed moment for Britain’s SMEs. That is the date that employers will be subject to new legislation enshrining employees’ rights for flexible working arrangements.

Until June 30th, the existing legislation limits rights to request flexible working are limited to those employees who have served at least 26 continuous weeks within the business and have children aged 16 or under.

Currently whilst employees can only make one request in any 12 month period and must do so via a statutory procedure, employers have a duty to

  • duly consider all eligible applications
  • Are obliged to implement any agreed deal on a permanent basis
  • Are required to negotiate an alternative agreement if the requested basis is not possible
  • Can be subject to an employee appeal if the outcome does match the employee’s desired one

The variety of flexible working that an employee can request includes:

  • Place of work including home working
  • Contract type, including temporary contracts
  • Part time working
  • Flexi time working
  • Job sharing
  • Shift working
  • Variable pattern working

After 30th June 2014 these employee rights are to be extended to cover all employees whilst also removing the need for a statutory procedure to make requests.

Whilst the employer can still refuse a request on business grounds, all such requests must be considered in a reasonable manner and treat all employees equally.

26% of Employees to Request Flexible Working Arrangements

Statistics released by research company YouGov has revealed that 26% of employees are intending to take advantage of the new rules to request alternative working arrangements.

For most small businesses this is quite simply a frightening prospect, interfering with their ongoing operations as well as distracting the business into deeper HR and administration decisions that previously hit only the largest employers, with suitable resourcing to support dedicated staff welfare programmes.

Of course that is not to say that small businesses individually or collectively ignore employee welfare or mistreat employees however the sublety and pragmatism and mutual understanding with which businesses and employees could approach such issues has now effectively been overruled by the impact of this legislation.

In a surprising finding the survey revealed that the age group most likely to take advantage of the new rules were those aged between 18 and 24 leading some to suggest that the new legislation was enshrining new rights for the “party” generation to enable them to fit work around their social lives. Whether this was the original intention of the legislation is unclear however the government have said that they hope the new rules will create a more loyal and productive workforce who because of the increased flexibility will be less likely to take sick days.

Whilst the statutory procedure has been removed, potentially removing some of the formal process headaches from the old rules, employers will be required to consider each case in full and can only reject a request where there are legitimate and justifiable reasons for doing so.

Although the ‘right’ for an employee is limited to ‘requesting’ flexible working, the onus will be on businesses, big or small, to find justifiable business reasons why any such request cannot be granted. Whilst many small businesses will endeavour to fit their employees into revised working arrangements some simply will not be able to, whether for operational or commercial reasons, as a result the success or otherwise of this legislation will lay with the pragmatism of the employee as much as the implementation of the employer.

Coming out of the worst recession in living memory perhaps the last thing SME businesses needed was an increase in bureaucracy, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this new legislation could prove to be a similarly huge challenge for small businesses.

We, like many businesses, will watch with nervous interest how things pan out post 30th June.




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