The government has confirmed that its previously announced amendments to flexible working rights will come into effect on 30 June 2014. The enabling regulations were passed by Parliament yesterday. The right to make a flexible working request will no longer be limited to employees with caring responsibilities and every employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service will now be able to make a request to change their working pattern.
Employers will still be able to refuse flexible working requests for the same prescribed business reasons as presently allowed for by law, such as additional cost burdens or inability to recruit additional staff.
A great deal of the formality of the current statutory flexible working request process is being removed; instead, employers will simply have to deal with the request to conclusion within three months of it being made.
An employee whose request is refused will continue to have very limited rights to challenge their employer’s decision, but employers do still need to be careful about refusing requests from employees who might be able to argue that the refusal amounts to indirect discrimination. Perhaps the most common example of this is a mother asking for part-time working to care for her child. Refusing such a request will often amount to indirect sex discrimination, for which the burden of proof will be on the employer to show an objective justification for the discrimination.
ACAS’s useful guide to handling flexible working requests can be downloaded here.