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Major workplace changes on the way

A MAJOR shake-up in the workplace is on the way which could see employers struggling to balance their businesses with new obligations to their employees, a leading law firm has warned.

Employment experts at law firm Ward Hadaway say that changes to flexible working rights and the introduction of shared parental leave could make life very difficult for some companies and organisations to cope with, particularly smaller businesses.

Joe_ThornhillJoe Thornhill, Partner and Joint Head of Employment at Ward Hadaway (pictured), said: “Whilst it may be laudable for the Government to want to make modern workplaces more family-friendly, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that this often doesn’t tally with the demands placed on businesses by their clients and customers.

“Having well-motivated staff who feel valued by their employer is clearly good for business, but there is a concern that without adequate time and resources to put contingency plans in place, some companies, particularly those with a smaller workforce, could really suffer if they are faced with a string of requests for flexible working and parental leave.”

A new regime for flexible working comes into force at the end of June.

Whereas previously the right to request flexible working could only be made by employees with young children, that right is being extended to all employees with a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous service, who will be able to make one such request in a 12-month period.

Whilst employers are not obliged to grant requests for flexible working, they will have to deal with any such request in what is described as a “reasonable manner” within a three month “decision period”.

Employers do have the option not to grant requests for flexible working, but such rejections can only be made for specific reasons laid down in law.

Joe Thornhill said: “Employers and employees have had to deal with a more prescriptive Right to Request flexible working regime for the last 10 years but these changes will open up a larger pool of potential staff who may want to change their working hours, working times or locations.

“Employers will also need to familiarise themselves with the new ACAS Code which provides guidance on the new regime to ensure they comply with the alterations.”

Changes in parental leave which come into force from April 2015 are likely to present further issues to employers.

Under the new regime, qualifying parents, adopters or intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement will be able to share between them up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay.

Joe Thornhill said: “While this is a pretty straightforward concept, the draft regulations which will implement the idea into practice are, in their current form, far from clear and have the potential to cause significant confusion and uncertainty for both employees and employers.”

The draft regulations require both parents to give their respective employers eight weeks’ notice to begin shared parental leave and claim shared parental pay, and the mother can change her mind within six weeks of the birth / placement of the child.

There should be a two week discussion period between the employer and employee within that eight week period.

Sharing leave can be done in minimum periods of a week in any combination and at any time and can even overlap.

If any leave or pay is broken up in to separate blocks of weeks, (rather than running for one continuous period) then the employer’s agreement is required.

There is no requirement for the respective employers of the parents to contact one another to discuss their employees’ leave entitlements or proposed shared parental leave pattern.

Joe Thornhill said: “As with many things, the devil really is in the detail with this proposed legislation.

“As things stand, employees may lose out by reason of uncertainty if, for example, either parents’ employer refuses a request for shared parental leave to run in separate blocks.

“Employees are also limited to making only two variation notices, so what happens if there is a third change of circumstances?

“Also, the administrative and operational difficulties faced by an employer minded to agree to a block shared parental leave pattern would be considerable.

“All in all, this represents a very difficult path for employers to tread – and with penalties for those who fail to comply with the new regime, it is one which they need to tread very carefully.”

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