Right to request is not absolute right to have, says minister

Speakers at the conference rallyEmployers should be confident in turning down unsuitable requests for flexible working, a government minister has said.

Minister for employment relations and consumer affairs Jo Swinson was speaking at this week’s Capita Conferences event on smarter working in the public sector.

She said changes to increase the right to request flexible working from April next year are a positive step, describing the culture of presenteeism as “bizarre and archaic”. “Modernising our workplaces is something that is long overdue. We have an approach to work that is stuck in a different age – about turning up at 9 and leaving at 5.”

However Swinson added that flexible working arrangements need to benefit both employer and employee. “It’s about right to request, not an absolute right to have,” she said. “Sometimes a proposal will not be one that works for an employer. It does need to have an ability to fit in with the business.”

Also speaking at the event, Stephen Williams, head of equality for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), outlined the soon to be published code for employers on flexible working. He said there is plenty of scope for employers to reject flexible working requests if they would not work for the business.

Swinson said the increasing blurring between personal and work life is a huge opportunity for employers and the economy. “Managed well it brings huge benefits for organisations in terms of being able to have faster response times – people can access work through technology outside the office,” she said. “A flexible labour market gives us competitive advantage.”

She also highlighted changes to the system of parental leave from 2015, saying it will help parents manage their lives, with couples able to take leave at the same time or split it between them at different times. She said the fact that men and women can take leave should help curb employer discrimination when recruiting women of childbearing age.

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