Associate solicitor Catherine Ridd from Morgan Denton Jones looks at some of the practical implications of the new Flexible Working Regulations that came into force this summer.
"Until 30 June 2014 the right to request flexible working was limited to carers of children under 17 (or 18 if the child was disabled) and those who cared for adult dependants. It is now possible for any employee with more than 26 weeks' service to request flexible working for any reason.
The new legislation has also changed the way in which employers must deal with flexible working requests and the timetable is much less prescriptive. Businesses now have three months from receipt of a request to consider it, meet with the employee and deliver their decision (including hearing any appeal). It remains the case that provided the procedure is followed, the employee will have no claim under the Flexible Working Regulations even if the request is rejected, however, he or she may still have a viable discrimination claim depending on the circumstances.
A key challenge we foresee for employers is how to go about addressing competing claims. For example, is a request from a mother returning from maternity leave more valid than a request from a male employee undertaking part-time study? The Government specifically wanted to avoid any prioritisation of requests on the basis that it would simply reinforce the notion that only parents and carers need to work flexibly. However, avoiding a tiered system is not so easy in practice and where there is the potential for a sex discrimination claim or when granting a request from a disabled employee may be considered a 'reasonable adjustment', employers may well have to weigh up the factors involved and make a judgment call.
New ACAS guidance suggests some solutions to this problem, including asking employees to agree a flexible working pattern by ballot or asking for volunteers who may be prepared to change their working pattern in order to accommodate a colleague's flexible working request. However, both of these 'solutions' need to be carefully considered and have the potential to adversely affect employee relations and will not always adequately solve the issues that individual employers may face."
For more information or advice on the legal detail or practical implications of the new Flexible Working Regulations, contact Morgan Denton Jones on or complete our online enquiry form.