Forthcoming Policy on Flexible Employment Practise

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I was at a recent Nottingham & Derbyshire Chamber of Commerce meeting (in Chesterfield) where we had been asked to engage with representatives of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) regarding proposed future policy on “Flexible Employment Practise”.

Currently staff have the right to ask for changes to work patterns, hours etc. in order to be “family friendly” and though this can easily be denied for business reasons, due process must be followed. We also have paternal leave for fathers of children, taken in blocks of up to 2 weeks, very soon after their child is born. There is also parental leave, which is unpaid leave of up to 13 weeks over the first 5 years of a child’s life.

The future proposals include changing Maternity leave so that, whilst a mother would receive maternity pay as the default setting, the aim will be to allow fathers to take some of the leave, allowing the mother to go back to work earlier and the father to look after the child. Concerns were raised about notice periods as the proposal suggests a notice period of 8 weeks for any changes to leave plans. In industries such as the security industry, we cannot run on short staff, we have to man a site. This short notice raises concern about being able to recruit, train and replace such staff on a temporary basis and the time wasted and costs that would be incurred in doing so. The issue was also raised about the proposal increasing the amount of information needed and complexity of transfers under the TUPE regulations.

The other main subject area discussed was that of Flexible Working where, currently, parents of children under 17 or partners of carers can request more flexibility in their working patterns. The suggestion is that this will change so that employers will have to consider flexible working for all employees. We were told that ACAS are due to draft a code of practice for this change. Employers will have a duty to consider flexible working “reasonably”: a word those of us in the security industry know full well is a pay cheque for the lawyers. As someone said, does this mean that a request for Saturdays off so employees can watch football matches (Nottingham Forest, of course), is reasonable?

The truth is that any request for flexible working must work for the business, or the employer is perfectly entitled to turn it down. If a security shift has to be filled, then it is very difficult to be flexible about working time, method or place. There is an appeals process to be put in place if an employee disagrees, but following procedure properly will ensure a correct result. In any event, it is excellent practice to encourage flexible working, as it is often a great way of getting the best out of our workforce and improving results and resources. So that begs the question, is there really any need for more legislation.

Paul Ritchie, Managing Director of Nottingham’s Foremost Security Ltd

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