Managers need to make hard-nosed business decisions on flexible working when proposals are not suitable.
The author of the soon to be published code of practice on flexible working has said managers should have no hesitation in turning down requests if proposed arrangements do not work for the business.
Head of equality at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Stephen Williams was speaking at a Capita Conferences event on smarter working in the public sector. He has written the code of practice on flexible working and a good practice guide for employers. Subject to parliamentary approval it will shortly be published ahead of the expansion in right to request legislation next April.
“I am 100% behind flexible working but you do need to make sure your managers make hard-nosed business decisions and say yes when they mean yes and no when they mean no,” said Williams.
He added that some units in the National Health Service were “borderline dysfunctional” on certain days of the week “because managers don’t want to say no and have a trade union on their backs”.
Williams laid out the way employers should handle flexible working requests under the new code, emphasising that it asks employers to deal with requests “in a reasonable manner”. “There is a different between that and ‘reasonable’,” he said. “It’s about process, not outcome.”
Employees will be able to make one request a year for flexible working and the employer should deal with this within three months in normal circumstances. “The employee can only complain if you fail to follow the steps or if there is new information,” said Williams.
He outlined the eight business reasons for not accepting a request and said companies must give one of these reasons. These include cost burdens; inability to reorganise or recruit; detrimental impact of quality, performance or ability to meet customer demand; insufficient work for the times proposed; and future reorganisation.
Reacting to delegate concerns about dealing with multiple requests, Williams said the idea of precedent is not helpful, with some employers feeling they have to give flexibility to others if one person has it when this is not necessarily the case. “I don’t like to think of limits in this sense, but the consultation suggested most employers think there is a limit to how much flexibility an organisation can accommodate,” he said. “You should empower managers to challenge the power of the precedent.”
He added that employers should consider building in future change to the arrangements in contracts so flexibility can be reviewed and changed in future if necessary. Organisations should also have policies in place on how they will manage multiple, simultaneous requests to work flexibly.
Williams also pointed out that certain, sensitive requests should be handled by employers under Equality Act legislation rather than the lower hurdle of right to request guidelines.
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