The statutory scheme that employers previously had to follow when dealing with flexible working requests has also been replaced with a more general duty to deal with requests in a reasonable manner and to inform employees of their decision within a three month period (unless an extension is agreed).
Acas have produced a Code of Practice on handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly and a supplementary good practice guide. Employers should follow the Code as far as possible when dealing with flexible working requests as Employment Tribunals must take it into consideration when deciding whether a request was handled reasonably.
There is no change to the content of the flexible working application. An employee is still required to state that it is an application made under the statutory procedure; specify the change that the they are seeking and when they wish the change to take effect; explain what effect, if any, they think the change would have on the employer and how any such effect could be dealt with. Similarly, the eight business reasons for which an employer can refuse a request remain.
It is important though to remember that this is still only a right to request flexible working and there is no right for this request to be granted.
To date, there have been relatively few claims raised in the Employment Tribunals relating to breach of the flexible working procedures alone and these changes are unlikely to increase the number of such claims. The main risk for employers remains the possibility of a discrimination claim - particularly an indirect sex discrimination claim.
Flexible working policies based on the old rules will now be out of date. Any policies drafted in line with the previous statutory procedure will be more onerous than the new regime and so employers should amend these in order to take advantage of the new rules. If not, employers risk their employees insisting on the old procedures which will bind the employer to strict time limits for scheduling meetings and issuing responses.
It will be interesting to see whether this change results in a significant increase in flexible working requests. My own view is that this change, in itself, is unlikely to make a significant difference to the number of applications. This is on the basis that although the previous statutory regime applied only to certain employees there was nothing to stop any employee asking their employer if they could work flexibly.