From the end of June, all employees will have the legal right to request flexible working - for example, part-time employment or home-working - provided they have been with their employer for at least 26 weeks. At present, the right is restricted to those with caring responsibilities for children or adults.
The Government wants a cultural change to make flexible working more widely accepted. Some employer groups have complained about more red tape, although many workplaces already have policies allowing staff to make flexibility applications. Also, the right will remain merely to ask, not to insist on different terms.
One helpful change for employers is that the current, rather cumbersome procedure for dealing with requests is being replaced by a duty to consider them in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable timescale.
Even if an employer breaches the right, the maximum a tribunal can award will be eight weeks' pay. But employers should still be careful about their refusal of requests being challenged as unlawful discrimination - in which case, no limit on compensation applies.
- Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.