Flexible working hours apply to everyone now
14:24 04 July 2014
Another milestone in the changing face of the modern work place was reached yesterday with the introduction of new rules giving all employees the right to request flexible working.
Previously only carers or those looking after small children could request to work flexibly.
But the coalition government has changed all that in a move ministers believe will particularly benefit older people seeking to scale back their hours as they approach retirement, and also enable companies to retain staff for longer.
The government also believes it will appeal to young people who may want to take up additional training or learning while they work, or those hoping to pursue other interests such as voluntary and community work.
But will it work or is there a danger of unleashing a flexible working free-for-all on businesses? So far the response from employer groups has been largely positive.
Any request will have to be considered in a “reasonable manner” by employers, and the process is being made simpler, while the conciliation service Acas has produced a guide offering advice on how to handle requests.
Paula Lee, an employment law specialist at Leathes Prior in Norwich, said the biggest impact could be on the male workforce and changing the perception that flexible working was mostly for women.
And she expected that could be felt next year when new rules allowing parents to split maternity and paternity leave come into force.
“It’s a massive change which is going to affect all employees with more than 26 weeks service,” she said. “If men start to ask to work flexibly it will help massively. We need men in senior positions to take advantage of their right to request flexible working.
“But we have to be careful that we don’t end up with the worst of all worlds. It’s very easy to say no to a request for flexible working, but still expect employees to respond to emails in the evenings.
“The big hurdle to overcome is old- fashioned businessmen, who equate being at work with commitment to the business. If you moved to task- based working instead of time-based work, that could be very interesting.”
She also believed the changes could highlight the generational divide, saying: “I think it will be generational, for those in their mid to late 40s they are still hung up on the idea of demonstrating a commitment to the business, but I think the younger generation will approach it differently.”
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