Guernsey: Are You A Flexible Employer?

Last Updated: 17 July 2014
Article by Emma Parr

Are you aware of the latest changes in employment law to hit the UK economy and, if so, are you prepared to follow suit?

Did you know that with effect from 30 June 2014, all employees in the UK with over six months' continuous service have the legal right to request flexible working? In effect, these employees can now make a formal request to their employer and ask to work flexible start and finish times, or even work from home. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Well, in truth, it probably is.

The problem lies in the fact that the employer does not actually have to agree to the request; an employer can still very easily say "no" and insist that its employees work to their contract. This leaves us wondering whether these latest developments will actually have any positive impact. Certainly, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg seems to think that flexible working will boost productivity and staff morale. He even goes as far as saying that the measures will help employers retain their top talent.

Yet, the sceptics among us question how this will work in practice and, in particular, what impact this could have on smaller businesses. The UK's Federation of Small Business is concerned that many of its members will not be able to comply with any request due to cost, the need to balance a small workforce and the additional administrative burden this may pose on already limited resources. The FSB even says that the introduction of flexible working could create a "negative dynamic" in the workplace, particularly if a request is unsuccessful.

An employer must consider any request for flexible working in a reasonable manner. The UK has yet to set out exactly what constitutes being reasonable but guidelines seem to suggest that an employer is required to consider the pros and cons of the proposed arrangements, hold a meeting with the employee concerned and then offer an appeals process if their request is unsuccessful. In reality though, an employer can easily refuse a request, having gone through the process, if it has a good business reason for doing so, and this could be open to wide interpretation by unscrupulous employers.

These latest changes follow a stern request from the European Union that the UK comes into line with other EU countries and ensures that its working practices are "bang up-to-date with the needs and choices of modern families". As such, many of our neighbour countries are already offering flexible working conditions to employees as a matter of course. However, on the basis that the Channel Islands are yet to even become part of the EU, the chances of the States being made to come into line any time soon are pretty remote.

That aside, many large Channel Island employers are already offering flexible working conditions to their employees and have recognised the benefit of doing so. Employers have reported seeing an enhancement in employee engagement and the retention of a more diverse workforce. Smaller businesses are less likely to follow suit and it may be some time before they are able to consider making similar arrangements.

Still, it is very early days since the UK's latest changes came into force and it remains to be seen what, if any, positive impact these changes will have on its economy.

Rest assured, we shall be watching the developments with interest and will provide you with a progress report (positive or negative) at a later date. In the meantime, if you are presented with a request for flexible working conditions and this will simply not work for you or your business, don't worry, you can still say "no"!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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