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The right to request flexible working arrangements is set to be extended to all employees later this year. Here we consider the new obligations, and the potential benefits of a flexible working policy.
In previous years, qualifying carers of adults and all parents of children aged 16 or under (or disabled children under 18), who had 26 weeks of continuous employment with the same employer, were legally entitled to make a statutory application to their employer for flexible working arrangements, such as working from home or flexitime.
However, under the Children and Families Act, all employees have gained the right to request flexible working arrangements. After some delay, the changes came into effect from 30 June 2014.
While the 26 week qualifying period has been retained, the statutory procedure for considering requests was repealed and replaced with a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable timeframe. Businesses may still reject claims for flexible working if there are legitimate business grounds, as defined by legislation.
The nature of the workplace has changed significantly in recent years, with many businesses now providing products and services outside traditional working hours, and employees - particularly working parents - increasingly seeking to achieve a better work-life balance.
Flexible working arrangements can be a valuable tool for attracting and retaining skilled employees, as well as helping to reduce absenteeism, improve productivity and boost staff morale.
Offering flexible working can also allow you to respond to changing economic trends and customer demands. For example, if your business experiences seasonal fluctuations in demand, flexible working arrangements such as annualised hours - where an employee works a set number of hours each year, but with a variable shift pattern - can help you to match your employees' hours with peaks and troughs in your business. Or if you need to extend your business's opening hours, offering flexitime could help to cover your requirements without dramatically increasing your costs.
When considering a flexible working policy, you should think about all aspects of your business, from production to customer service, supervision and communication, and which forms of flexible working are most likely to suit your requirements. Don't forget to set in place a timetable for reviewing your policy.
The Government has confirmed that from 2015 new parents will be able to share their parental leave, either taking the leave at the same time or in turns. Following the initial obligatory two weeks of a woman's maternity leave, the remaining 50 weeks can be shared between both parents as flexible leave.
In addition, an increasing number of workers currently approaching retirement age are considering continuing to work on a part-time or temporary basis, meaning that the trend towards flexible working is only likely to continue.
Flexible working is playing a growing role in the workplace, and adopting a considered flexible working policy could benefit your business in the long run.