New flexible working regime is toothless, says lawyer

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New laws which aim to make it easier for all staff to secure flexible working arrangements are “toothless”, according to a trade union lawyer.

Paul Scholey, a partner at Leeds-based Morrish Solicitors, claimed that the right to request flexible working has always been of limited importance for most workers.

He added: “It is a right to request – nothing more. It is certainly not a right to work flexibly. If the employer listens to your request, he can turn it down more or less with impunity. There are some boxes to tick, but provided the employer ticks them, a complaint cannot be made to a tribunal. Even if the employer gets the procedure wrong, the maximum award of compensation is eight weeks’ pay. In principle I welcome the extension of a right to work flexibly – but that’s not what this is; it’s a toothless nod to flexibility. And with Employment Tribunal fees putting off 80 per cent of complaints to Employment Tribunals, I don’t think employers have much to worry about.”

Guy Lamb, a partner at DLA Piper in Leeds, said that most employers will need to update their flexible working policy.

Mr Lamb said: “The new flexible working regime will give all employees who have 26 weeks’ continuous service the right to request flexible working from June 2014.

“At present, only parents of children aged 16 and under and carers of certain relatives aged 18 or over, have this right.

“Employers will also no longer need to follow the statutory procedure, and instead will be able to use their current HR procedures, so long as requests are considered in a reasonable manner.

“The removal of statutory procedures may lead to some confusion over the process, but does potentially give employers slightly more flexibility. Employers will still be able to reject requests for flexible working on the same grounds as apply at present.”

Rob Riley, a partner at Addleshaw Goddard, added: “Unless the flexible working regime is accompanied by meaningful sanctions for failing to grant any reasonable request, employers will continue to manage flexible working requests by assessing the financial consequences that might accompany rejection of each application. For employees who just want more work-life balance, the so-called extension of flexible working remains an illusion.”