Previous Article Next Article HR doubt over parenting lawOn 4 Dec 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. The new duty allowing parents to request flexible working arrangements fromtheir employers is good news for many. But some are concerned over the increaseof red tape, reports Ross WighamEveryone will be a winner when the new duty for employers to considerrequests from parents to work flexibly becomes law in 2003, claim unions andpressure groups. The argument goes that staff will be happier and better parents, employerswill have more productive, motivated staff who are easier to retain, and littleJack and Daisy will get to be nurtured by both mum and dad. John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, said, “It is a useful firststep. We predict employers will see real advantages in adopting flexibleworking and there will be every reason to extend the new rights to parents ofchildren older than six.” But not everyone is playing happy families. While most employers areoptimistic that there will be benefits, nagging doubts remain about a rise inred tape and employment tribunals. Employers are expected to receive 500,000 extra requests a year for flexibleworking from parents following the announcement of the Work and ParentsTaskforce’s proposals at the end of last month. Around 3.8 million parents withchildren under the age of six will be eligible to apply for the new workingarrangements, along with an additional 200,000 with disabled children under 18.The taskforce estimates 80 per cent of requests will be solved duringdiscussions between employees and employers, and claims only 1 per cent ofrequests will be decided by tribunal. Some employers and representative bodies remain sceptical. David Yeandle,deputy director of employment policy at the Engineering Employers’ Federation,is concerned by the government targets and doubts whether the overworkedtribunal system can handle the extra burden. He warned that Acas will need more resources to mediate in flexible workingdisputes if a higher proportion of cases are not to end up in tribunal. He said, “The Government has set itself a challenge and I think thetargets are ambitious. Past evidence isn’t good and if it wants to achieve that1 per cent level it will have to put in place a good resource system.” Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt and the chair of the Work andParents Taskforce Sir George Bain both believe the new rules have struck aworkable compromise between employers and staff. Sir George Bain said, “We have recommended a prudent approach whichwill allow employers and employees to become familiar and comfortable with thisnew era of law. “We believe our recommendations are a significant step to change how weall work in the future.” The problems While many employers are grateful that parents have not been awarded anautomatic right to work flexibly – they are able to refuse the request if theyshow that it would harm the business – there are significant concerns. Mike Taylor, group HR director for building services company Lorne Stewart,is worried it will create more red tape for business. He said, “I think it is absolutely disastrous – the cost to businessdoesn’t bear thinking about. For companies who operate shifts it could beterrible. To set up this bureaucratic audit trail is completelyunnecessary.” Taylor is not alone. Clare Chapman, group HR director of Tesco, said,”We are concerned that the extent of the legislation is against the spiritof what it is intended to achieve. We think the way it will be implemented willremove much of the flexibility employers seek to embrace through existing HRpolicies and will produce additional challenges to the way they dobusiness.” There are also worries about dispute resolution. Digby Jones, head of theCBI, is concerned that the recommendations will be much more burdensome forsmaller businesses. The British Chambers of Commerce goes one step further and wants theGovernment to introduce a package of support mechanisms to help smaller firmsimplement the new legal duty. David Lennan, director general of the BCC, said, “It is important theGovernment provides a support package that meets employers’ needs. Generalguidance may be sufficient for many firms, but some will need help in coming toa decision on a particular case. “A fully funded consultancy service to guide small firms throughflexible working rights would be cheaper than the tribunal process. This woulddemonstrate its commitment to helping small firms rather than hindering themthrough regulations.” But Sir George Bain is convinced that 80 per cent of the additional 500,000predicted requests will be solved in-house. “We don’t want cases to go totribunal unless it is totally necessary,” he said. The plaudits The TUC believes employers will benefit significantly from the Work andParents Taskforce’s proposals. It claims firms will improve retention rates,save money on recruitment costs and get an additional resource of parents backinto work. There are many HR professionals who agree. Nikki Rolfe, corporate HRdirector at L’Oréal, said, “The new DTI proposals acknowledge andformalise the trend for flexible working for parents. This move is a positivefirst step towards striking a balance between work and family life.” Morag Fox, HR director of book retailers BCA, claims her firm providesstrong evidence of the success of flexible working. “We have had a flexible programme running for several years because weemploy lots of people who have a family. It actually helped us recruit peoplein places like Swindon where the labour market is very tight. Companies shouldallow their employees to have different starting times and be flexible in theirapproach to working parents,” she said. However, despite welcoming the move, some wanted the reforms to go further.Sue Monk, chief executive of Parents at Work feels some employers could exploitthe system and the tribunals won’t have the power to stop them. “We fear that parents in low skilled jobs or working in areas of highunemployment may lose out because they don’t have sufficient clout at work. Itmay be necessary to provide a tougher enforcement mechanism,” she said. Morag Fox, HR director, BCA “We have had a flexible programme running for severalyears because we employ lots of people who have a family”Clare Chapman, group HR director,Tesco “We are concerned that the extent of the legislation isagainst the spirit of what it is trying to achieve”Nikki Rolfe, corporate HRdirector, L’Oreal “This move is a positive first step towards striking abalance between work and family life”Case study: the fight for theright to work flexiblyKaren Maloney was a personnel andpayroll officer for construction firm James R Knowles. She had worked there forfour years and came back early from her maternity leave on a part-time basis.Maloney then asked to continue working part-time, but shortlyafterwards was told she would be replaced with a full-time member of staff. Hermanager told her she would be moved to a different part-time position and jobshare arrangements were not available. Despite repeated requests she was notgiven details of this position. An employment tribunal in Liverpool in December 2000 found thatMaloney had been discriminated against on the grounds of her sex, was unfairlydismissed and awarded her £18,000. The Equal Opportunities Commission claims the case is anexample of how inflexible employers can be. New guidelines for flexibleworking requests – Parents with children under sixwill be able to submit a request if they have worked at the firm for six months– An employee must submit the request in writing– The firm must then give the request serious consideration,making a business assessment – The employer must report back at a meeting within four weeks– If a request cannot be accepted employers must explain thebusiness reasons in a letter– The employee has the right to dispute the decision in-house– The employee can then go to a tribunalHow companies must justify thebusiness caseEmployers should give clear businessreasons justifying the rejection of a request based on:– Burden of extra costs to business– Inability to meet customer demand– Inability to organise work within available staffing– Detrimental effect on performance– Inability to find extra staff– Other reasons – to be specifiedwww.dti.gov.uk/er/review.htm Related posts:No related photos.