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Attitudes towards flexible working – time for change

New research carried out by Digital Mums and the Centre for Economic and Business Research has shown that there is still a dramatic lack of flexible working options for mothers in the UK.

The #WorkThatWorks report looks at the impact flexible working could have on maternal unemployment across the UK if it was more accessible. It is an issue that affects a considerable section of society with 2.6 million mothers classing themselves as stay-at-home mums and no longer part of the workforce.

It is true that some mothers actively choose to focus on their role as a parent and not return to work but the report found that 68% of stay-at-home mums would go back to work in some capacity if flexible working around their childcare was available. This is all about giving women options.

Such flexible working requests could be to change the hours an employee is required to work (e.g. fewer hours per week), change the time that an employee is required to work (e.g. starting and finishing work later to fit around childcare) or change the location where the employee is required to work (e.g. working from home one day per week).

This all makes sense since the report found that London’s economy alone is losing out on a potential £16 billion by not embracing flexible working.

The report aims to look at potential solutions rather than simply highlighting the extent of this issue.

Flexible working rights

Flexible working is not only for parents and carers. The Government introduced a statutory right from 30 June 2014 for an employee to make a flexible working application to their employer and it claims that 60,000 workers are taking advantage of flexible working arrangements each year. This has been a step in the right direction but it has clearly not gone far enough when 1.76 million mums are not afforded the flexible working arrangements they require to be able to return to work.

The legislation does not give an employee an automatic right to insist that their employer accepts the application for flexible working. As long as an employer considers the application fairly they are entitled to refuse it on a number of broad grounds, for example, if they are not able to reorganise work among existing staff.

A further restriction is that an employee needs to meet certain eligibility criteria in order to access this statutory right, they must:

  • be an employee;
  • have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service in your employment;
  • not have made an application for flexible working during the previous 12 months.

The law provides some guidelines that the employer must follow whilst they are considering an employee’s application. The employer must deal with the application in a reasonable manner, notify the employee of the outcome within the ‘decision period’ of three months from the date of the application and only refuse an application if it is covered by a prescribed ground for refusal. Failure to follow this guidance by an employer may leave them vulnerable to an employee bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal.

Time to change

Social attitudes need to change to accept flexible working as a solution to enable mothers to continue to develop their careers. Studies have shown that flexible working can also provide other benefits to employers including increased productivity and lower stress levels among staff.

It is important that employers take a reasonable approach to flexible working in order to retain talent and avoid losing highly skilled workers because they are not able to develop their careers alongside their family commitments.

Are you an employee that feels that their employer has not dealt with a flexible working request fairly or properly?

Our solicitors help many employees secure flexible working conditions, by advising them of their rights or by intervening on their behalf to settle a dispute with their employer over flexible working requests.

Are you an employer that requires an updated flexible working policy and procedure to ensure that you are keeping on the right side of UK employment laws?

Our employment solicitors help to minimise the risk of claims in this area by advising employers on their legal obligations and rights, or by intervening on their behalf to settle a dispute with an employee over flexible working requests.