With so many recent surveys highlighting the growing importance of work life balance as a key determinant in job choice, flexible working is a subject area that isn’t going to go away. And yet how informed are we, the advisers, in letting our clients know what their rights are and how to go about requesting them?
At the end of June this year, we entered a new era of flexible working rights. Yet research from software company LogMeIn has shown that only 29% of managers are actually aware of the changes that have come into effect. Would this number be any higher for careers advisers? It appears there is work to be done yet to spread the message of ‘what’s new’ in the world of flexible working. Let’s talk through some of the main changes.
The biggest difference of the recent reforms affects the scope of working who are now eligible to apply for flexible working. Previously this had been restricted to parents with a child under the age of 17 (18, in the case of disability) or to those with caring responsibilities for adults. However, as of 30th June the right to request flexible working now extends to all staff (full or part time) who meet the qualifying period of 26 weeks continuous service with that employer. It is important to point out that this remains a right to request only – employers have no statutory obligation to accept the flexible working request and can still therefore, refuse them providing there is a legitimate business reason to do so. This business reason for rejection should fall into one of seven categories, all which can be found on the Gov.uk website.
Other changes are less drastic but should also be noted. For example, the very strict time-tabled procedure that workers and employers previously had to adhere to when applying and responding to such a request has now been loosened. Employers are now required simply to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’ and within a three month period. Obviously there are disadvantages to such undefined wording of this matter but ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) have helpfully produced a useful Code of Practice on how this should be interpreted. One area that remains the same as before is that employees are only allowed to submit one flexible working request in any 12 month period.
A final change is that the employee no longer has a statutory right to appeal against the decision, and they no longer have a right of accompaniment to the meeting to discuss the request. However, in both cases ACAS recommend consideration of these to be good practice. Upon refusal of a request for flexible working, the employee has a 3 month time scale in which they may make a claim to an employment tribunal.
To date, this whole confusing area of flexible working is one that really only affects those of us working with older clients. However, as the need to and the practice of working flexibly becomes more normalised over time (which I dare say it will) then who is to say that this isn’t also going to become an important consideration for our younger clients as well? As such, it is vital that we, as careers advisers and teachers, are able to understand the basics of their rights, and know where we can signpost them to for more detailed information. In the first instance, a great starting point is the relevant pages on the Gov.UK website or the ACAS website.