Every employee in the UK now has the right to request to work flexibly, with their employer legally beholden to consider the appeal "in a reasonable manner".
A press release issued today by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS) claims that the move will mean rights being extending to more than 20 million people across the UK. Previously, only carers or those looking after children had their right to request flexible working enshrined in legislation.
The government predicts that the extension of rights will result in an extra 81,000 flexible working requests per year, taking the number to 182,000. A total of 144,000 are expected to be approved, 64,000 of which will be for those gaining the right today.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: "Modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale, and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow. It's about time we brought working practices bang up to date with the needs, and choices, of our modern families."
Employers will be able to refuse a request only for one or more of eight defined reasons: additional cost burden; negative impact on ability to meet customer demand; inability to reallocate work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental effect on quality; impact on performance; lack of work needed during the working hours requested by the employee; and planned structural changes.
The government has forecast that today's move will benefit UK plc to the tune of £55.8m, offsetting a projected cost of £39.8m. Industrial relations body Acas has today published on its website a code of practice for employers to help them consider requests.
Acas chairman Brendan Barber said: "Our experience from working with thousands of employers is that flexible working is both good for business and employees. The new code will help employers handle flexible working requests in a reasonable manner and fit their specific circumstances and procedures. We have also produced a good practice guide with practical examples to help employers and businesses consider some of the key issues that may pop up."
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