The right to request flexible working will be extended to parents with children up to the age of 16, following an announcement by the Government. Currently, the right is only available to parents of: children up to the age of 6, disabled child up to the age of 18 and adults in need of care.
Current provisions allow employees who have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service and who satisfy the ‘relationship’ criteria to request flexible working arrangements e.g. changes to the hours, times or place of work, to enable them to undertake child care responsibilities. Following receipt of such a request, the employer must arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss the application and subsequently must provide a written notice of the decision. The employer may reject the request on one or more of the following grounds:
- Additional costs involved;
- Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
- Inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff;
- Inability to recruit additional staff;
- Detrimental impact on quality;
- Detrimental impact on performance;
- Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee wants to work;
- Planned structural changes
Employees have the right to appeal against the decision and can, on limited grounds, make a complaint to an employment tribunal; however, the tribunal does not have the power to question the commercial validity of a decision to refuse a request for flexible working.
A date for implementation of the change is yet to be announced and the Government will now consult on how it is to be achieved, however, it is thought that the target date is April 2009. The CBI has suggested that implementation should be delayed until October 2009 to allow firms to adapt.
It is predicted that an additional 4.5 million parents will benefit from the change and it is thought that more senior staff with older children will now make requests for flexible working.
Therefore, employers are advised to plan for the increase in requests and to contemplate how to manage the effect this will have on their business.