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Guest opinion: Flexible working regulations – better to train than face a claim

Philip Harmer

Author: Philip Harmer (pictured) is a partner at Stormcatcher Business Lawyers based in Surrey. He is a lawyer, speaker and regular commentator on employment and business law

"A career in the motor trade, especially in sales, has long been associated with long hours; many firms prescribing a six day week, 10 hour day and compulsory weekends.

Those suffering from the understandable strain this places on home and family life were offered the chance of some respite, with an opportunity to re-calibrate the work/life balance under the Flexible Working Regulations.

But for some dealers the file marked 'flexible working requests' is thick with dust and is unlikely to point to total employee satisfaction.

The regulatory changes introduced in July 2014 gave all employees the right to request 'flexible working', providing they’ve been in continuous employment for at least 26 weeks.

Requests can include a change to working hours, working time or working location involving a wide range of working patterns, such as job sharing, working from home, part time and flexitime.

While an employer doesn’t have to agree to requests and the regulations prescribe eight grounds for refusal, they are obliged to consider them 'reasonably' and judge each request on its merits.

However, the lack of requests and a clear written policy for handling probably points to managers that actively discourage and prevent employees from making requests, lacking training in being supportive and encouraging, and not directing employees to make formal statutory requests.

In any event firms are leaving themselves open to tribunal claims and potentially having to pay compensation for wrongly treating requests, unfairly treating employees and potentially discrimination.

Rather than 'bury their heads in the sand' at the unfounded fear of opening the flood gates to every employee wanting flexible working, dealers should take a proactive approach.

Managers are well placed to take decisions on flexible working, being closer to individuals and best placed to see how flexible working could work for specific employees.

Therefore by supporting managers with a clear policy and procedure, examining in advance the staffing requirements of the business will assist them in consistently dealing with requests and justifying their decisions.

Better to train than face a claim."

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