• Flexible working: Is HR prepared for the changes?

  • 22 May 2014
  • Comments 3 comments

Businesses still confused over their legal obligations, say experts

On 30 June 2014, Flexible Working Regulations will be amended in what has been heralded as one of the most significant steps forward since the 1963 Contracts of Employment Act.

The right to request flexible working will be extended to cover all employees after 26 weeks’ service, rather than just parents with children under 17 years, or 18 in the case of a disabled child, and certain carers.

Staff will be restricted to making only one application a year, and employers will still have the right to refuse requests on business grounds, terms which so far haven’t been fully communicated, legal experts said.

“The changes to flexible work regulations is often mistaken by employees as providing them with the right to have flexible working arrangements, rather than have the request dealt with,” said Esther Smith, an employment partner at TLT Solicitors.

It seems many employees are also still unaware that any successful application for flexible working will result in a permanent change to his or her terms and conditions, with no right to revert to their original terms in the future.

Smith said it was important that both employers and staff were fully up to speed before the end of June.

“Employers should be looking at their internal policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the new provisions, and it may also be a good opportunity to deliver some training internally on the subject,” she said.

“Whilst employers may be reluctant to advertise the extension of the right to request to the wider workforce, it may also be an opportunity to ensure that the staff know the limitations of the right, and therefore manage their expectations should they submit requests.”  

The fact that employers will no longer have to follow statutory procedure means less of a headache for UK employers, says Vinita Arora, employment partner at DLA Piper, as businesses “will be able to use their current HR procedures, so long as requests are considered in a reasonable manner.”

“This extension in the law means that most employers will need to revisit, and update, their flexible working policy to comply with the new law,” she said. “The removal of statutory procedures may lead to some confusion over the process, but does potentially give employers slightly more flexibility.”

The extension of the right to request flexible working, comes with a “Handling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner” guide from ACAS, which Smith advises employers should get their head around long before the act takes effect.

“Steps should also be taken to ensure that mangers who might handle flexible working requests are familiar with the processes and procedures required under the new ACAS Code of Practice that is being implemented alongside the new rules," she said.

“This significant extension also poses risk for employers, who may face discrimination claims if one flexible working request is seen to have not been treated as fairly as another," Arora said.

But employers are under no legal obligation: “Employers will still be able to reject requests for flexible working on the same grounds as apply at present.”

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Comments (3)
  • 'Handling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner' guide from ACAS can be downloaded from their website:


  • WIth CIPD/PM's legendary inefficiency, this article makes reference to an ACAS document that they either have not yet got up on their website, or is incorrectly titled in the article. The document is titled The Right to Apply for Flexible Working' but this still refers to parental responsibilities being a criterion for having the right to make a request.

  • In our organisation we actually introduced our revised flexible working policy in April and since then have had 2 requests - both of which are asking for a condensed working week with no reduction in pay.  Very interesting as we have a relatively 'long hours' culture.  One request from a male and one from a female - both with no children.  We are likely to agree to the requests but I am a little concerned that it will open the floodgates.... watch this space....