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Flexible working extended

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Millions more parents will be able to ask their employers for flexible working arrangements under an extension to the law which came into force today. Previously, the right to request flexible working was limited to parents of children up to the age of six (or 18 if disabled) however, it has now been extended to parents of children up to the age of sixteen. The changes to the law follow the recommendations of the independent review by Imelda Walsh, HR Director for Sainsbury's in May 2008.

Eligibility

It is important to note that the law does not create a right to work flexibly, it simply provides a statutory framework through which eligible employees can ask for their request to be properly considered by their employer.

In order to make such a request, an employee must:

- Be an employee (as opposed to self-employed, a consultant, an agency worker);

- Have 26 weeks' continuous employment with the employer;

- Not have made a request to work flexibly in the last 12 months;

- Be making the request in relation to a child under 17 years (or 18 if disabled); and

- Be either the child's mother, father, adoptive parent, guardian or foster parent; OR Be the spouse, civil partner or partner of the child's mother, father, adopter, guardian or foster parent;

- Have or expect to have responsibility for the child's upbringing; and

- Be making the application in order to care for the child.

The right to request is also available to certain carer's of adults.

Procedure

If an employee meets the eligibility criteria (above) he or she has a right to make a written application requesting a change to the hours that he or she works, a change to the times he or she is required to work and/or to work from a different location (e.g. home). The employer is then legally required to meet with the employee in order to discuss the application. After the meeting, the employer must write to the employee and confirm whether the application has been granted or not. The employee has the right to appeal if the employer does not grant the request.

Grounds for refusing application

An employer must have legitimate business reasons why it cannot accommodate a specific flexible working request. These are prescribed in the legislation and include; the burden of additional costs, inability to re-organise work amongst additional staff and detrimental impact on performance.

Impact

The extension of the right to request flexible working will be welcome news for parents who struggle to balance work and family life. Employees who work flexibly are more likely to feel less stressed and in turn, more productive at work, which should mean good news for employers. However, some employers may instead see this as yet more time consuming red tape in a period when many businesses are concentrating on staying afloat.

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