From this week all 30 million workers in the UK have a right to ask for flexible working hours, instead of just parents and carers.
The ramifications of this move will be played out in the offices and factories of our land over the weeks, months and years ahead, and it will slowly but surely change the UK work culture.
We are pleased that this news has received a high media profile, as local employment law specialists, and we have watched with great interest the arguments for and against flexible working hours being played out on our radios and TVs.
One of the more strident pro-flexible hours comments was that of Liberal Democrat business minister Jo Swinson who said it was a 1950s mind set which dictated that workers have to be in an office to get their work done.
However, this has been countered by many employment lawyers predicting a huge surge in the number of workplace grievances and increased resentment between workers who get what they want and those who lose out.
We believe that such is the nature of office politics and the cut and thrust of the work place and with different flexible working arrangements for different workers this will unquestionably add to tensions, but that’s human nature and this problem shouldn’t detract away from the positives.
We now live in a global village, have technology which allows us to work away from the office, and this means in many cases work can be performed in the comfort of the employee’s home and fits in well with childcare arrangements.
In the right circumstances this will lead to more motivated employees, who are less likely to leave, which in turn leads to employers cutting down on staff recruitment costs. Added to this it will mean less traffic on the roads in rush hour, helping us get around our crowded towns and cities that bit easier.
On the negative side though we could have a situation where an employee who wants to go to the gym in the morning will be vying for flexibility with a parent. It could be down simply to someone getting their name in first to the boss. This raises a whole new issue of the potential favouring of workers with children as against young single employees and introduces arguments about ‘lifestyle choices’.
What has to be taken into consideration though is that these new rules are a ‘right to ask’ rather than a ‘right to have.’
Also, what is uppermost in employees mind will be productivity. Most decisions will be in all likelihood on trust and the effect on the business’s operation.
We would hope that the commodity known as ‘common sense’ will prevail in the majority of cases and good, understanding employers who engage well can keep those who have been left disappointed onside.
However, of course, there will be instances where this won’t happen. That’s life – not everyone can be kept happy.
Yet despite whatever side you take with the flexible working rights argument it is here now and we hope that its intended purpose of making the UK’s workforce happier and more productive proves correct.
It’s certainly interesting times ahead, but a potentially difficult time for employers who might have to show the wisdom of Solomon to decide on who gets to work flexibly.
If you would like to understand more about your rights as an employer or employee contact Paul Bownes at Ellis Hass & Co Solicitors on email, or call 0121 745 2810.