Workplace rights: Flexible extension

The issue of work/life balance is under the spotlight again after the Government's decision to extend the right to request flexible working to employees with children up to the age of 16, bringing another 4.5 million people within its scope.

by Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors -e-mail: employment@lewissilkin.com
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The law, currently restricted to parents whose children are under six or disabled, was extended only last year to carers of adults. The change will lead to more applications from staff for part-time working, job-sharing and term-time-only working. But the right itself is actually quite feeble. Employers must follow a set procedure in considering whether a proposed working arrangement is practicable, but there are various grounds for refusing, limited scope for an employee to challenge a decision and a maximum tribunal award of only £2,648 for infringement. The major concern for employers in this area is discrimination law. Since most staff with childcare or caring responsibilities are women, a denial of flexible working can lead to a sex-discrimination claim, with the spectre of unlimited compensation and unwelcome publicity. Claims can be pursued regardless of whether the statutory 'right to request' is used, so suggestions that the extension will be damaging for business and a 'bridge too far' are wide of the mark.

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