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1/3 of SMEs ignore extended right to flexible working

On 30 June 2014, the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees with 26 weeks’ service. Formerly this was only available to employees caring for children or adults. But just how effectively is the new regime being implemented?

A survey by SAGE UK indicates that 1/3 of SMEs are not complying with the new law, while 10% of SMEs are completely unaware of the changes.

Why are businesses failing to comply with the legislation?

The Federation of Small Businesses has previously expressed concerns that the law places a large administrative burden on small businesses and creates a negative dynamic when requests are refused. Concerns have also been raised over the cost of implementing IT systems to allow employees to work from home.

However, it might be useful for employers to remember that flexible working can bring benefits to the business as well, by boosting morale and productivity, improving staff wellbeing and reducing the number of absences. Additionally, the procedure for considering flexible working requests has been simplified and so there is less of an administrative burden on employers in this sense.

Dealing with flexible working requests

There is a duty on employers to deal with flexible working requests in a reasonable manner and to notify the decision within 3 months. If a request is unreasonably refused or handled badly, employers could face a claim for breach of the statutory requirements (maximum award £3712), or expensive discrimination or constructive unfair dismissal claims. Employers can only refuse applications for a sound business reason – in the same way as under the previous system.

When considering requests, it is important for businesses to remain open-minded and flexible and act reasonably. Look to how similar requests have been handled in the past. If you are treating the two requests differently, be very clear on your reasons as to why one request was allowed and the other was not as the absence of a good explanation could ultimately result in a tribunal claim.

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