Flexible Working Regulations; What It Means For HR

Flexible Working Regulations; What It Means For HR

The basics

As of the 30 June 2014, any employee who has served for over 26 weeks will be able to apply for a flexible work pattern. The previous legislature allowing only parents and carers to apply for flexible hours has been abolished. Employees can apply only once every twelve months, and there can be no amendments once their application has been accepted; the changes made are permanent until twelve months afterwards.

A request can only be refused on these business grounds:

  • The burden of any additional costs is unacceptable to the organisation.
  • An inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
  • Inability to recruit additional staff.
  • The employer considers the change will have a detrimental impact on quality.
  • The employer considers the change would have a detrimental effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand.
  • Detrimental impact on performance.
  • There is insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  • Planned structural changes, for example, where the employer intends to reorganise or change the business and considers the flexible working changes may not fit with these plans.

This sounds rather rigid, but if an employee wants only ‘an informal change for a short period… for instance to… pursue a short course of study’, employers may allow them to revert to their previous conditions at their own discretion. It’s all about looking at each case on its own merit, and dealing with it reasonably and sensibly.

Why the change?

Ideally, an employee’s work/life balance should be a symbiotic relationship rather than a tug-of-war. In response, as this is becoming very possible, organisations want to ‘align their business needs with the way their employees work’. Many HR Managers and Directors are looking forward to ‘enhanced motivation, loyalty and lower staff turnover’, whilst those who take more convincing see an application for flexible working hours as ‘indicative of a low commitment to the business’. But whatever effects these changes will have, hopefully the ‘highly prescriptive’ current laws will not be missed; the new approach is so flexible that it can potentially suit everyone.

What should HR be wary of?

There are some foreseeable problems. Employers may have to deal with discrimination claims (if an application is seen as having been dealt with unfairly), the loose laws regarding time limits will likely cause some confusion and employees may not initially understand that it is ‘a right only to make a request’, not an automatic right to flexible hours. The current grey areas regarding ‘discrimination legislation and hierarchy of rights’ will need to be better illustrated, and it is HR’s responsibility to ensure that both they and their employees are fully informed.

There will be many questions HR professionals should be ready to answer, but nothing which cannot be found in ‘Handling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner: an Acas guide’. Hedgy phrases like ‘at their own discretion’ and ‘as soon as possible’ leave lots of room for misinterpretation, but nothing that should not feasibly be avoidable through sensible communication. Foreseeable problems are in fact the best kind; they are, by nature, preventable.

How does this affect HR professionals?

HR Departments will have some new responsibilities. Communication between employers and employees is paramount in ensuring that the terms of an agreement have been fully understood.

HR’s involvement in the change will be all about ‘addressing attitudes’. They have to make an application an ‘okay’ thing to do; as with any change to ‘how things are done’, someone has to feel comfortable enough to be the first to take a new step. No one should feel that they cannot apply because it is unfamiliar territory. HR should take demonstrative steps to open the avenues of communication between, for instance, a nervous employee and the intimidating director they have never spoken to by creating  ‘the right environment for requests’. It must be universally understood that applying is for ‘anyone… for any reason’.

Author: Caroline Beer

Posted on: Friday 30th May 2014