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Survey: over a quarter of UK workers plan to request flexible working once extended right in force

Out-Law News | 09 Jun 2014 | 2:30 pm | 2 min. read

UK employers could face a "surge" of requests from employees to work flexibly after extended rights come into force according to a survey which revealed that 26% of UK workers planned to do so. 

From 30 June, any employee with more than 26 weeks of service will have the right to request flexible working arrangements, and employers will have to consider all such requests in a reasonable manner. Currently, the right is only available to parents with children aged under 17 and carers.

HR consultancy Croner, which commissioned a YouGov survey on the attitudes of over 2,000 UK adults to the changes, said that the new right could help to overcome existing "inertia" regarding flexible working caused by uncertainty and a fear that requests would be rejected. According to the survey, 69% of employees have never made a flexible working request. In 22% of cases it was because they did not think that their request would be accepted, while 13% cited financial implications.

"For SMEs, flexible working will not be the easiest policy to implement, particularly if there is a sudden rush of applicants this July," said Richard Smith of Croner. "However, once the trust and change of mind set has been established the rewards of a flexible workforce will become clear."

"For those companies who have never offered flexible working or [do not] understand this new legislation it may come as a shock. Bosses should also note that if there is a genuine business reason they can turn down requests, but they will need to prove that they have been considered fully and the process well-documented," He said.

The Croner survey showed that some of the businesses that were already offering flexible working were benefitting from better employee productivity and reduced rates of sickness and absence. In addition, 63% of respondents overall believed that flexible working would give them a better work-life balance while 42% said it would create higher staff morale. However, 16% of respondents felt that it could create tension in the workplace.

Flexible working arrangements can include part-time and term-time working, job sharing, compressed hours or working from home. Once the new regime comes into force, eligible employees will have the right to request a change to working hours, working time or working location once every 12 months. This request must be in writing and include certain information specified by the Employment Rights Act (ERA), such as the nature of the change and the effect that it would have.

The new regulations do not automatically give employees the right to work flexibly, as employers will still be able to reject a request on the basis of one or more of the permitted reasons set out in the ERA. From 30 June employers will no longer have to follow the statutory procedure for considering such requests. This will be replaced by a new duty to deal with the request in a "reasonable manner". Employers will be required to notify the employee of the decision within three months of the application date, but this period can be extended by agreement.

To accompany the changes, publicly-funded conciliation service Acas will publish a statutory code of practice setting out the principles that employers should follow when managing flexible working requests. The final version of this code is due to be published shortly.