As a government initiative looks to increase the uptake of flexible working, we look at the pros and cons and legal requirements for HR departments…
The desire to have flexible working is a big pull for prospective candidates.
According to a survey by web conferencing company powwownow.co.uk, 81 per cent of people say that flexible working would make a job more attractive to them and 35% would prefer flexible working over a pay rise.
What’s more, the Flexible Working Task Force, which sees business groups, government departments, charities and trades unions come together, launched a campaign in January with the aim of increasing the number of people flexible working. At the same time, the CIPD report, Megatrends: Flexible Working, highlighted the reasons why flexible working opportunities are being missed – limited options provided by employers, the attitudes of managers and employees’ negative assumptions about the consequences of flexible working.
So being able to offer flexible/agile working is becoming more and more important – and is likely to help you retain existing staff, as well as attracting the widest and best range of candidates.
So what are the pros and cons of flexible working for employers, and what is the legal stuff you need to know when implementing a flexible working policy? Read on to find out…
When it is hard to find good staff, it makes sense to make your company as appealing as possible – and offer benefits that will help retain your best employees. Make sure you promote it within your organisation and externally when recruiting new staff.
Offering flexible working as a benefit helps to boost morale among your workforce and can cut down on absenteeism and lateness. It will also promote loyalty and commitment. You will find that staff turnover decreases too. It also helps to promote your organisation as a family-friendly place to work. One of the less considered benefits is that staff can work when they perform best – larks can start early and night owls can work later into the evening – this is another benefit for you if you have a customer-facing business as you can provider longer customer service hours.
Like all initiatives, there are bound to be some downsides.
For instance, some staff will not have the self discipline to work from home and are likely to binge-watch Netflix instead! And managers who are used to seeing when and where people are working may find it hard to disconnect and not be able to micro-manage their staff, as they like.
Where people work within a team, you will need to ensure there are guidelines put in place to make sure that every member of the team does what they need to. You may need to adopt a culture change if office-based workers consider that home workers are not pulling their weight. It’s amazing how people who spend hours chatting, smoking and gathering at the water cooler or kettle, can resent someone working at home with none of these distractions!
Likewise, a compressed week can be tricky for customer-facing jobs where clients expect someone to be on call five days a week.
The legal stuff
It is important to note that although employees do not have the right to flexible working on demand, they do have the right to submit a request to their employer.
Employees with 26 weeks of continuous service can make a statutory flexible working request and only one request can be made in any 12 months. The request, which must be made in writing, may include a change of hours or place of work.
As the employer you must deal with the request in a ‘reasonable manner’. According to the ACAS code you should discuss the request promptly and allow the employee to be accompanied at meetings. While there are no time limits currently for carrying out any particular step, the entire process (from request to appeal outcome) should be concluded within three months -unless the parties agree to extend this time limit.
An employer can only refuse a statutory request for one of the eight statutory business reasons – these include the inability to reorganise work or the burden of additional costs.
Be aware that if you operate a blanket ban on flexible working, you could leave yourself open for discrimination claims. For instance, should an employee need to work from home occasionally because of childcare problems, or because of as disability, it could lead to a claim of indirect discrimination. Be aware that job applicants can also claim discrimination; so rejecting a candidate who has asked you to consider flexible working can also be an issue.
If an employer agrees to flexible working, that makes a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment, and your organisation then decides on a blanket ban on flexible working, it has, in effect, changed that contract of employment – and you could be liable for breach of contract or unfair dismissal.
If you would like to discuss this subject further and how it could help your business, please contact Cecily Lalloo at Embrace HR Limited.
T: 01296 761 288 or contact us here.
Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Embrace HR Limited supports business owners who do not have their own HR department or those that do but need help from time to time. We also work across the Home Counties of Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, and also with SMEs based in London.