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Flexible Work Shake-Up Could Riddle Firms with Uncertainty

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A Midland lawyer has moved to calm the region’s businesses following in-depth plans set out by the deputy prime minister to reform flexible working rights.

Nick Clegg has unveiled the blueprint to update what he described as ‘outdated rules’ which from 2015 will significantly extend all employees’ rights to flexible working. The plans include new rules for maternity leave ‘sharing’ between parents and a system where employees can request reduced hours to care for children.

The government’s plans have been described as ‘alarmingly intricate’ by employment specialist Sally Morris but she has moved quickly to reassure the region’s business leaders.

Ms Morris, partner and head of employment at Midland law firm MFG Solicitors, said: “Nick Clegg has had flexible working on his agenda for some time so it’s positive to see an announcement finally being made. However my big worry is that his speech sets hares running and causes the region’s employers to automatically think they must grant flexi-working to staff who make a request.

“Yes, come 2015 there will be new employment measures for businesses to tackle, such as different work patterns and possible complications for shifts and holiday cover, but Midland firms must realise they will not be forced into a corner. Each employee’s flexi-working request will be judged on its own merits through a laid-down procedure and importantly, can be refused provided there’s a legitimate businesses reason.

“Aside from the fairly straightforward maternity sharing plans, these proposals carry the potential to riddle firms with uncertainty as they are alarmingly intricate. But my concern is they will drive unnecessary panic into boardrooms across the region.

“Mr Clegg has been very detailed with these employment plans. But if businesses take time to study the detail and take advice over the months ahead then life will be much simpler when the legislation comes into force.”

Nick Clegg’s ‘Flexible Working for all’ proposals have been met with a mix of plaudits and concern. Ultimately, they have been introduced with the careers of working mums and new working patterns in mind.

Under the new laws, a pregnant employee would be able to trigger parental leave at any time and whatever time is left over can be taken by her partner instead.

The proposals will see even grandparents and family friends given the right to apply for flexible working to help with childcare.

Ms Morris added: “Presently only parents of children aged 16 or under, or under 18 if the child is disabled, can apply for flexitime for childcare reasons. However my worry is that with grandparents and even family friends being able to make an application, it will become imperative for firms, especially SMEs with fewer HR resources, to establish the true reason for the flexitime request. It is important that policies and procedures are established and followed to prevent abuse and any negative impact on employee and employer relations.

“Overall, the West Midlands business community must tune into what these proposals mean for them. They are complex and have worried people but with full preparation and the correct advice there’s no reason why firms can’t be well equipped in a few years’ time.”

Ms Morris will be holding a number of seminars on Mr Clegg’s plans.