Manufacturers already offer flexible working arrangements to their employees, often going above and beyond what was covered in the announcement made by the Deputy Prime Minister today. In the modern workplace, flexible working is a two-way street. Not only does it help employees balance their lives inside and outside of work, it also helps employers secure commitment and flexibility from their workforce.
But with flexible working already in practice amongst many businesses – do we really need to legislate the right to request flexible working?
Employers have witnessed an increasing number of legislative changes affecting the relationship between employers and their workforces including the Agency Workers Regulations and the abolition of the Default Retirement Age, what they need now is a break from additional legislation.
Businesses are looking for a stable regulatory environment which facilitates discussions between employers and employees to find the most suitable approach rather than one that inhibits it by imposing a ‘one size fits all’ approach. What we must ensure then is that new proposals, including those announced today, do not add additional complexity, particularly at a time when companies are engaging in faster-changing and less-predictable markets.
In is also worth highlighting that many manufacturers already operate their own company policies to offer flexible working arrangements to all workers. So we must be careful that these businesses do not suffer from administrative penalties where regulation then intervenes. We would not want to see requests made under the legislation becoming more burdensome and slow for both employers and employees as this can potentially undermine a positive workplace relationship. There is a risk that legislating for the right to request to all employees may result in employers sacrificing informal processes for more statutory cumbersome ones.
Moving on to the introduction of flexible parental leave - employers can see some advantages from giving parents the flexibility to split parental leave as it will allow some mothers to return to work quicker. The issue has always been ensuring that flexible parental leave is straightforward, so business will welcome the decision to allow leave only in single blocks. A simple, clear framework reduces the opportunities for dispute and supports continuing good relationships. In contrast, the current arrangements for parental, paternal and maternity leave and pay are already beyond the comprehension of many employers and employees.
One issue that the Bill will need to address is notice periods. Companies have increasingly specialist skill needs and will then need longer notice than the current eight weeks to arrange cover for an employee who could be away from work for potentially months. There may also be questions around the likelihood of both parents working in the same company who then take parental leave at the same time, which would be of particular concern for small businesses.
Manufacturers support and value their flexible workforces and already agree on a wide range of working arrangements for all workers, flexible parental leave should build upon this, but success is dependent on the simplicity of the proposals that allows both employers and employees to plan for the future.