WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the chief executives' body ACEVO

Q: I am told that I have to apply the new law on flexible working. We are facing major budget cuts, so can I defer implementing the new legislation?

A: The new laws on flexible working patterns came into force on 6 April and include:

- Parents with children under six can ask to work flexibly

- Employers are obliged to take this request seriously

- Failure to pay proper heed to requests could face claims in employment tribunals

- Employees have to take reasonable account of the business interests of the firm

- The right to ask to work flexibly applies to parents of disabled children up to 18

- Fathers can take two weeks paid paternity leave within eight weeks of the birth of a child

- Parents adopting a child can go on leave when a child is newly placed with them.

The ACEVO annual pay survey found that in advance of the legal changes, more than half of voluntary organisations have a policy of paid paternity leave. More than two-thirds offered variable working hours, working from home and temporary reductions in hours. More than half offered the possibility of a job share, but only 24 per cent have a policy that promotes a work-life balance.

So my first word of advice is that all sector organisations need to be reviewing their policies on flexible working. For example, you might reasonably ask that while the legislation gives certain categories of staff a right to flexible working, what about other staff with dependents or people who have other good reasons for wanting flexible hours? This could be a cause of dissension in the work place and we always have to watch for the legal considerations of requests that are turned down by women employees who might claim potential indirect sexual discrimination.

Section 80 of the new Employment Act allows you to refuse a flexible working request from eligible employees if there is a significant burden of additional costs, if there would be a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, if you would be unable to reorganise work among existing staff, or if there would be a detrimental impact on quality.

But bear in mind the Government has said it expects around 80 per cent of all requests to be granted. My advice would be not to look at this issue in isolation but as part of your general working conditions for staff.

For further information and application form templates speak to the DTI (020 7215 5000). Ask for DTI Pack PL520 or go to dti.gov.uk. There is also an ACAS helpline (08457 474747).

- Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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