17 February 2020 - Article
This month, after a period of maternity leave, I began working four days a week, with one of those days as a ‘remote' worker. Suddenly, every article I read seems to be telling me that I am either one of a growing group of cutting-edge flexible workers (step up, Nicola Mendelsohn, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Facebook and Belinda Earl, new style director at Marks & Spencer), or that I am passÃ© for wanting to work remotely and shall be missing “magical” time with my colleagues (one of the reasons why Yahoo has just banned its staff from remote working). Clearly, this is a controversial topic. Whatever your view, the government is taking steps towards a more flexible workplace. At the end of last year, it published its response to the Consultation on Flexible Parental Leave, proposing that (amongst other things) the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous employment, irrespective of the size of the employer. Under existing plans, these proposals will come into force by 2014 and ACAS is currently consulting on its draft code of practice on the extended right. It is already foolhardy for employers to reject a request for flexible working without consideration. There is a statutory right to request flexible working for carers of children and adults (subject to compliance with certain criteria) and both unfair dismissal and sex discrimination legislation can be called upon in certain circumstances by employees whose requests for flexible working are rejected. However, the government's proposals are undoubtedly an attempt to instigate cultural change and to support flexible working amongst a much wider group of employees. Indeed, they are only one example of the proposals for increased flexibility, which include allowing parents (who meet certain criteria) to share parental leave and pay. In these straitened times, it can be tempting for employers (particularly small businesses) to have a knee-jerk reaction against these changes. Whilst this is often understandable, the reality is that it does no harm to keep an open mind. Greater flexibility can have benefits for the employer as well as the employee (not least, employee retention and increased productivity). However, if, after fair and proper consideration, an employer feels more Yahoo than Facebook about things, then it should be prepared to justify its decision (with arguments about magic moments, if necessary).