Flexible working opened up to all – will it make a difference?

Today, 30 June 2014, flexible working requests can now be made by all. Previously the statutory right was only enjoyed by parents of children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) and certain carers.

There has been much press in relation to the issue but will it actually make any difference?

Anecdotally, many employees and employers would have been having similar conversations even without such a ‘statutory’ requirement. In fact the CIPD who surveyed its members found that 96% of employers already offer flexible working. This would of course seem to make commercial and industrial sense. So, the actually change to the law is more likely to be of political and social importance rather than legal. It is a way that the present government stating that it making the employment market indeed more flexible, without there being much disapproval from either side of the employer-employee divide. It is also an acknowledgment of the changing nature of society and of work. Gone are the days of the fixed time and workplace, some business leaders even argue that the linear way of thinking and working is wholly outmoded and home/working life needs to be more intertwined rather than delineated (for example Michael Tobin OBE in Forget Strategy Get Results). Indeed this seems to be exactly what Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg believes having stated in the government press release “flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale…flexible working will help to create a cultural shift towards more modern, 21st century workplaces where working flexibly is the norm”.

Of course it might lead to a flood of requests, although at present there is not much standard pro forma documentation that would cause this (update: since the date of this blog BIS has now provided a Flexible Working Application Form). The real issue will therefore be as to the ‘ranking’ of ‘competing’ requests. The main way that I could see this change in the law ‘backfiring’ is that some employers will refuse all conflicting flexible working requests from the workforce in an effort to insulate any allegation of discrimination and/or feeling of ill-will amongst the employee (or employees) who have had the request refused in contrast to his/her colleague.