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RIGHT TO REQUEST FLEXIBLE WORKING – REVIEW OF IMPACT

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					Right to Request Flexible Working
         Review of impact in first year
                        of legislation


                             Report for the DTI

                   Prepared by Christine Camp
                  on behalf of Working Families

                                   March 2004
CONTENTS

   Introduction                                                                        3

1. Methodology                                                                         3

2. Parents Feedback
   2.1    Awareness and usage of the legislation                                       4
   2.2    Awareness and usage of the legislation                                       5
   2.3    Requests and outcomes                                                        5
   2.4    Reasons for refusal                                                          5
   2.5    Types of request                                                             6
   2.6    Was the procedure easy to follow?                                            7
   2.7    Did your employer follow the procedure correctly?                            7
   2.8    Was the job change permanent or temporary?                                   7
   2.9    Was the job change your old or a new job?                                    8
   2.10   Has the law helped you?                                                      8

3. Comments/suggestions for change from parents
   3.1    Issue of a “mother’s right” not a “father’s right”                            9
   3.2    High cost of childcare negates ability to work flexible hours                10
   3.3    Permanent nature of change removes right to revert to original hours         11
   3.4    Needs more awareness of the legislation and procedures                       11
   3.5    Needs stronger legal powers                                                  12
   3.6    Widen eligibility to all employees (all carers?)                             13
   3.7    Flexible working is not available in certain (more senior) positions         13

4. Other issues highlighted
   4.1    General attitude of employers                                                14
   4.2    Difficulties for small companies                                             15
   4.3    There are still some good employers out there!                               15

5. Employer responses
   5.1    Employee size: ranged from 40 – 65,500 employees                             16
   5.2    Industry sectors                                                             16
          Did you introduce a new Flexible Working policy
          (or change an existing one) to incorporate this legislation?                 17
   5.4    Number of requests received under this legislation                           17
   5.5    Number of requests agreed/refused                                            18
   5.6    Refusal reasons                                                              18
   5.7    Was the procedure easy to follow?                                            18
   5.8    Has the “Right to Request” legislation had a positive or negative effect
          on your business?                                                            19
   5.9    What have the positive outcomes of the legislation been for organisations?   19
   5.10   What have the negative outcomes of the legislation been for organisations?   20

6. Other comments from employers about the legislation, or suggestions
   for change                                                                          22

7. Summary and Conclusions                                                             23



                                                                                        2
                 RIGHT TO REQUEST FLEXIBLE WORKING

               REVIEW OF IMPACT IN FIRST YEAR OF LEGISLATION

Introduction

The statutory right to request flexible working became effective on 6 April 2003 and
applies to parents of children aged under six (or 18 if the child is disabled). It followed
intensive consultation with the business community and other stakeholder groups.
Parents At Work (the former name of Working Families) was directly involved in that
Sue Monk, a Chief Executive at the time, sat on the working party to advise the
Government on the terms of the new provisions. It is fair to say that before
introduction, there was general scepticism from employer groups, particularly the
SME sector, who feared additional costs and red tape. Parent groups on the other
hand, favoured a stronger legal approach, with many (including CIPD) urging
Government to widen the right to all employees and/or to abolish the age restriction.

Government agreed to review the legislation three years after introduction. Working
Families was asked to report back to the DTI on impact of the new right during the
first year. This report forms the basis of that feedback within the following objective:

To identify and evaluate the impact of the right to request flexible working
legislation, from the experiences of relevant stakeholder groups, namely:

      Parents in general
      Parents in “special interest” groups – eg. low income parents
      Employers


1. Methodology

Working Families has a unique insight into the employer/employee relationship as it
has membership schemes for both groups and is actively involved in awareness
raising of the business benefits of flexible working.

Feedback and survey information was sought from a wide constituency of parents
and employers via seminars, our advice line and through postal and web based
questionnaires. A total of 35 employer and 259 parent responses were received. The
relatively low employer response rate (from a mail - out of over 400) possibly
indicates that employers do not regard this legislation as that significant, and/or they
are tired of completing surveys on this and other subjects. However, we have been
able to add considerable qualitative comment to our employer feedback, from the
many employer contacts that we have (see Section 3).

Our high parent response shows on the other hand, that parents are very concerned
about the issue of flexible working.

Parent groups who completed the questionnaire breakdown as follows:
 70 parents of disabled children


                                                                                           3
   72 parents on low income (and seeking advice)
   76 parent members and those who had requested factsheet information from us
   41 parents of twins/multiple birth children

Of those respondents who provided monitoring data, 12% were male, and 81% were
of white ethnic origin.

We did attempt to report back on experiences of ethnic minority parents, but the
sample from our general survey was too small to be of significance. Several ethnic
minority community organisations were contacted but they had no direct experience
of this issue.


2. Parents feedback

2.1 Awareness and usage of the legislation

The vast majority of parents (68%) were aware of this legislation. Of those who
responded to the question, 43% said that their employer was also aware.

                 Parents of    Low           Parent        Parents of   All
                 disabled      income        members /     multiple     responding
                 children      parents       seeking       birth
                                             information   children
 Aware of        77%           83%           65%           44%          68%
 R2R

 Is employer  54%              N/A           43%           N/A          43%
 aware?
 Made request 33%              60%           40%           25%          40%

 Request         83%           29%           62%           77%          60%
 agreed


By definition, parents who responded to our survey are parents who were either our
members or those seeking advice and information. Therefore, they are likely to be
more aware of employment rights than the general population. Those seeking advice
through our legal advice helpline (for low income parents) are most likely to be
seeking advice because of an issue they wish to resolve with their employers. This
may slant our results to the effect that we are picking up relatively more negative
feedback about people’s experiences than positive. The results from the parents of
twins may give a more representative picture since they were not users of
advice/information services (although they clearly have “special interest” issues with
childcare and may be more informed than others through membership of support
networks). The parents of disabled children (who are in our Waving not drowning
network) also tend to be more aware of their rights and are acutely aware of the
difficulties they face with childcare and employment.



                                                                                     4
2.2     Requests and outcomes

104 of the 259 surveyed parents (40%) had made a request to work flexible hours
and a further four said they were planning to. This figure was highest amongst low
income parents and this group also recorded the highest rejection rate. In total, 60%
of requests were agreed, but this ranged from 83% for parents of disabled children to
just 29% for low income parents. Of 16 male parents, only two requests had been
made and these were both parents with disabled children. These requests involved
changes to working hours and were both were agreed.

In four cases (out of 99 requests) a compromise was reached and in three cases,
agreement was given subject to certain conditions. These included two cases of
being subject to the parent finding their own job share partner and one case of a three
month trial period.


2.3     Reasons for refusal

40% of all requests were refused. The vast majority gave a reason, but around half
did not fit the allowable grounds for refusal. A few were given oral reasons.
Interestingly, not one response cited “the burden of additional costs” despite this
being a main concern of the business community prior to this legislation. Some
employers had clearly not fully considered the matter, responding such as “too much
work, job needs to be full time”, without perhaps exploring other options. The main
concerns seem to be around the kind of job that can or can’t be done other than on a
full time basis. Six respondents were told that part time was not available for
management. Others mentioned the difficulties of managing part time staff and one
was told the employer had a quota for part time staff (5%) that could not be
exceeded!

Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest challenge remains in changing the mind-set of
employers to be open to consider new ways of working. Several parents reported that
their employer had already made up their mind before the formal request was made.

Reasons for refusal were recorded as follows:


 Stated reason (generic)                          No.    “legal” reason
 Inability to re-organise work                    6      Yes
 Inability to recruit additional staff            3      Yes
 Customer demands                                 3      Yes
 Quality or performance                           2      Yes
 Impact on colleagues                             1      No
 No PT for management                             6      No
 Kind of job cannot be PT                         1      No
 PT management issues                             1      No
 5% quota for PT staff exceeded                   1      No
 Business needs                                   1      Needs to be defined
 No PT vacancies                                  1      Maybe


                                                                                     5
 6 of the 7 reasons used!                         1     ??
 Haven’t worked in the Co. long enough            1     Maybe
 Unable to find suitable Job share partner        2     Maybe
 Can’t have 2 FW on same shift                    1     No
 Told post had to be FT (FSA regulations)         1     Maybe
 - but not actually true!
 Need FT in that post (too much work)             2     Inability to re-organise
                                                        work
 Difficulties of ward staffing                    1     Inability to re-organise
                                                        work
 Currently on job share scheme – refuse to        1     No
 change hours (2nd appeal)
 Would affect running of department               1     Needs to be defined
 Not allowed to work from home (for Health &      1     No
 Safety reasons)
 Compressed working is “unhealthy”                1     No


2.4     Flexible working policies

Overall, 46% of parents reported that their employer did have a flexible working
policy, although 14% were not written. However, 41% did not know either way, which
is perhaps a more revealing statistic.



 Does your employer have         Parents of     “General”        All parents
 a flexible working policy?      disabled       parents
                                 children
 Yes – written                   37%            25%              32%
 Yes – not written               20%            7%               14%
 NO                              13%            14%              13%
 Don’t Know                      30%            54%              41%


2.5    Types of request

The vast majority of requests was for some form of reduced hours. Working from
home was a very low preference. Within 17 “other” requests, four were for job shares,
three for compressed hours, two for term time working (eight not stated).


 Type of request                         % of all requests
 Reduced hours                           47%
 Work from home                          9%
 Change in working hours                 30%
 “Other” changes                         14%




                                                                                    6
2.6    Was the procedure easy to follow?

69% Yes
31% No


Most respondents reported that yes, the procedure was easy to follow. However,
fewer were able to confirm that their employer did follow the procedure correctly, a
significant number (13%) did not know and some commented that they knew more
about it than the employer.

“I had to find out the information and apply to my employer who then found out the
procedures applicable to the company.”

“There was no procedure: myself and my job share partner proposed changes and
our employer agreed to them.”


2.7    Did your employer follow the procedure correctly?

49% Yes
38% No
13% Don’t Know


2.8    Was the job change permanent or temporary?

63% Permanent
31% Temporary
6%  Don’t Know

In most cases (63%), the job change was reported as permanent, which accords with
the legislation. However, this in itself causes some difficulties for many parents since
it removes the (legal) option of reverting to the original working hours as/when life
circumstances change again. As one parent commented:

“I have enquired at changing my hours and have been told that this is possible, but it
will be difficult to increase again at a later stage. I feel I get mixed messages all the
time from my employer; they want to be seen to be saying the right thing, but in
reality, they don’t.”

Another parent commented that her employer changed her contractual terms on a
permanent basis, but inserted a clause “this arrangement will be reviewed on a
regular basis”, which effectively gave the employer the option to change her hours
back again at any time, with two weeks notice.




                                                                                            7
2.9    Was the job change your old or a new job?

The vast majority (82%) reported that they had kept their old job, 18% said it was a
new job.


2.10   Has the law helped you?

Overall, 22% of our sample said “Yes” the law has helped them. However, the
majority (60%) were not able to give a response, probably because they have not had
any direct experience of it. Some responded along the lines of “Yes – but…”
indicating that it was better than nothing but still relies heavily on employer goodwill.
The responses did vary considerably by “parent group”, but as said before, this
reflects the fact that the low income parents were using our advice line precisely
because they had experienced problems at work. The full results are as follows:


 Has the law helped        Yes           No           Maybe        Don’t
 you?                                                              Know
 All respondents           22%           13%          5%           60%
 Parents of disabled       31%           0            3%           66%
 children
 Low income parents        15%           34%          15%          36%
 “General” parents         20%           13%          2%           65%


Many parents commented that the law has helped to promote flexible working, even if
it has not specifically helped their case. A sample of such comments:


“Employers are less likely to be argumentative and more willing to listen realistically”

“I have more confidence to ask, knowing that I have certain rights”

“Without this law, I would be unable to continue to work”

“I think it has aided people to come forward”

“I feel that without it (the new law) my employer would have just said NO”

“It means my employer has to take my request seriously”

“My employer had previously rejected all requests”

“It has encouraged (forced?) my employer to consider my request”


On the other hand, some parents felt that the new law has not been any help, in
particular, because it is not seen as strong enough, or because of the limitations on
child age. Some selected comments are as follows:


                                                                                           8
“There are too many loopholes”

“Requires a change of will on part of employer”

“Has had a negative impact on my work relationships. Colleagues were jealous of
benefits for those qualifying under the legislation”

“Still too easy for employer to refuse”

“No obligation on part of employer to assist in finding alternatives, such as job share
partner”



3. Comments/suggestions for change from parents
There were plenty of comments from parents as to how this law has helped or could
help further. As we already know, those in lower paid positions have less choice and
less power in negotiating changes and to address their needs, the “right” needs to be
much clearer, in particular the grounds on which it can be refused. Also, parents who
have the most to lose in economic terms (such as those on a low income) are more
cautious about making requests which could make them unpopular.

Many parents gave the view that it is still hard to ask, and generally, they don’t want
to cause problems. There is a feeling that requests have to be justified and there is
the possibility that colleagues will resent any perceived “preferences.” Overall, the
message seems to be that the law is good as a back-up, but still does not make it
easy, as it cannot change attitudes and flexible working may well mean less pay.

Although reflecting individual situations, a number of common themes emerged
across the different parent groups. These are reported below:

3.1    Issue of a “mother’s right” not a “father’s right”

Several respondents commented that men were not sufficiently aware or not
comfortable using this legislation, or were concerned it would damage their career
prospects. Some respondents assumed the right only applied to (new) mothers, or
said that their employer only interpreted it that way.

Typical comments were:

“I think my experience is shared by a great many working fathers in the UK. Many
more will have been put off even applying.” (Father – finance sector)

“My husband hasn’t felt comfortable using the new law in an IT environment as he will
lose popularity and it is likely to affect his career prospects.”

“Needs more awareness, particularly for fathers.”



                                                                                          9
“I have been able to change my hours but do not think that it would have been the
same if my husband had requested the same.”

“I would like to see it apply to both parents so that fathers could have the right too.”

“Not just for working mums, but for dads as well.”

“Off the record, I know the policy is for women working part time in the typists
pool.”

“My husband’s request (to work four days pw) was refused, despite his boss
(headteacher) agreeing to exactly the same request from two other females.”

“My employer does appear to take the rights of mothers returning from maternity
leave more seriously, possibly being concerned it would attract bad publicity to
appear discriminatory towards women.”
(Father whose application to work flexible hours was refused).


3.2    High cost of childcare negates ability to work flexible hours

Not directly linked to the “right to request”, but clearly a big issue for many parents,
particularly those on low incomes and/or parents of multiple birth or disabled children.
Typical comments were:

“I would like to work two or three days pw, but cannot afford childcare, even though
my salary would be £30,000 (pro rata). I think this is ridiculous!”

“Childcare is a big issue. I need to return to full time work but cannot afford nursery
fees for my 15 month old twins.”

“I would like to earn the same working part time and bringing up a family. How about
some real benefits – like free childcare for the second set of twins?”

“Cost of childcare would mean I was working for nothing.”

“Need payment for parental leave, like Belgium.”

“Need more financial support with childcare.”

“Uneconomic for me to work reduced hours, childcare in school holidays would eat up
my ENTIRE pay, and half of it during term times.”

“After childcare costs and tax, would only earn £51 pw, so feel that I am going to have
to hand in my notice.”




                                                                                           10
3.3    Permanent nature of change removes right to revert to original hours

Comment was made that the permanent contractual change militates against the
benefit of working flexible hours because it creates uncertainty about the future. Of
course, if there is a good relationship with the employer, it is expected that hours can
be re-negotiated to suit both sides as and when the situation changes, but with a less
“flexible” employer, it forces the employee into a corner. Most parents probably want
to reduce hours at some stage, but want to preserve the option of returning to a full
time career at a later stage.

Typical comments were:

“I can only manage to work one day pw but now have lost the right to return to further
hours.”                                            (mother of twins)

“I would like to have an agreement which would have let me return later to more
hours.”

“Employers right to review means employee doesn’t feel secure.”

“Permanent change means less flexibility for the future.”

“I have been told it will be difficult to increase my hours again at a later stage.”

“Circumstances can change at any time, arrangements need to be flexible.”



3.4    Needs more awareness of the legislation and procedures

Although our survey revealed a good level of awareness, as already said, this is
probably higher than exists in the general public, since our members/enquirers are
already interested in the subject of flexible working. However, a significant number of
respondents still feel that there needs to be far more communication of these rights
(particularly by employers) because it is the case that many employees are unaware
that they exist.

Many parents told of how they had to research the issue themselves and then inform
their employer. Some feel that their employer deliberately chooses not to inform
employees, and one respondent suggested a legal obligation on employers to do so.
One parent suggested having a basic pack on parents employment rights included in
the “new parents” birth pack given at maternity hospitals. Some comments concerned
the need for more training for managers on this issue.

Some typical comments:

“Would it be possible to draw parents’ attention to the legislation as part of a “parents
pack” when leaving hospital with a new baby?”




                                                                                       11
“More information should be made more easily available. Maybe it should be a legal
requirement for employers to notify employees of their rights.”

“Needs more promotion to raise awareness.”

“Make it compulsory for employer to fill in the questionnaire”

“More managers need more training”


3.5    Needs stronger legal powers

Many parents commented that the current legislation was too weak, with the only
redress being an Employment Tribunal (which could not even then reverse the
decision). Most wanted the right to be strengthened to a right to flexible working, not
simply a “right to request.” One person raised the possibility of extending the right to
recruitment.

Some typical comments:

“There should be simple and instant legal redress for those employers who fail to
accommodate requests for flexible working. No teeth in the current legislation.”

“Employer only has to consider the request, which cannot be enforced.”

“Either enforce or give employers more incentive to agree flexible hours.”

“Make it work, most employers ignore the legislation.”

“I have no doubt it was only as a result of this new legislation that my employer
agreed to reduce my work hours, but I still feel there is a loophole for employers to do
what they want.”

“I was told they were not legally obliged to find me part-time work.”

“Needs something which can apply to a person who is seeking a new job.”

“Needs to be clearer on what grounds can be refused.”

“Without taking independent legal advice, I have no chance of my proposal ever being
taken seriously.”

“Too easy for employer to refuse.”

“Employer can do what they like with little comeback.”

“Fewer get-outs.”

“Too vague – relies on employer goodwill.”



                                                                                      12
3.6    Widen eligibility to all employees (all carers?)

One of the most common criticisms was the age restriction, which not only limits
eligibility, but has also caused employee resentments. Some people would like the
criteria widened to all parents, or all carers, others would prefer to see it available
across the board to all employees, which is probably the fairest option. After all, the
underlying reason for the employee working flexible hours makes no difference at all
to the business case.

Typical comments include:

“Include the right for all parents of children up to age 18. It gets harder when they
become teenagers.”

“Has to be a right to reduced working for all people with caring responsibilities. If
people like myself are unable to get flexible working, what chance do most people
have?”                      (Male, working for “benchmark” company)

“My employer has refused because one of my colleagues has refused to change her
shifts, so now I have to resign.”

“Why the age limit? I think older children need just as much supervision as younger
ones. I imagine I will need more flexibility a they get older, not less.”

“My colleagues complained and I was refused.”

“Should be extended to cover all dependents.”

“Should be for over-sixes and cover school holiday periods.”

“Does not apply to me as my (disabled) son is 20.”

“More flexibility for everyone.”




3.7    Flexible working is not available in certain (more senior) positions

A clear pattern emerged from the many comments that employees are being told that
flexible working is only suitable at certain levels. Alternatively, those in management
positions are told that they can only work flexible hours if they accept a demotion. At
industry sector level, several teachers (and librarians) commented that it wasn’t
possible to work reduced hours in their job. Also, comments were made about the
(perceived) added management cost and time in employing part-timers.

Typical comments include:




                                                                                        13
“My request was only agreed at a much reduced rate of pay and not as a manager
(which I have been for nine years).”

“I have been told they can’t accommodate me because I am a supervisor and am
needed full time.”                     (female, local government)

“Too many employers are not willing to give it a chance and just view part-timers as
more work for them.”                    (female, request refused)

“I have already accepted that this would have to be at a lower grade than I am
currently on, as a supervisory role is off their radar screen.”
              (female, management role in large manufacturing organisation)

“My boss is adamant that flexibility cannot be allowed in my role.”
                           (male, junior officer grade – financial services)

“I am a librarian, doesn’t make any difference to me - libraries have to be open fixed
hours. Staff can’t work flexibly.”

“As a teacher, don't feel the new law can apply to me!”

“Teacher - difficult to change hours.”

“Teacher- flexible hours are tricky.”

“Two separate callers (to our helpline) who requested to work flexibly were
told it was only a possibility if they moved to a much more junior job.”




4.     Other issues highlighted
4.1 General attitude of employers

As we well know, legislation on its own cannot change attitudes and educating
employers on the business benefits of flexible working is an on-going issue. Many
parents commented on this point; that their employer simply did not want to consider
alternative ways of working. These are the ones most hard to convince, but also the
hardest to reach. Comments included:

“It is not the legislation that is the problem, but the mind set of companies that make it
exceedingly difficult.”

“I don’t see how legislation will help those whose employers think of them as easily
replaceable.”

“I returned from maternity leave, was asked to spend 50% of my job away from home
and when I asked for flexibility was made redundant.”



                                                                                       14
A new mother requested to work a two day week, she was told this would
make her 'not a team player' and threatened with redundancy. (from helpline call)


4.2    Difficulties for small companies

SMEs often complain that they are hardest hit by such legislation, but in reality, they
often have more flexibility to respond and our experience in working with employers is
that employer size is not the issue. However, one respondent raised this with the
following comment:

“I think it is very difficult and can be costly for small companies. I think the lack of
take-up is due to the cost and therefore the company does not promote such rights
and would discourage if an employee applied.” (director of small company)

4.3    There are still some good employers out there!

Lest this report should seem to indicate that no employers are getting it right, the
research did reveal some success stories. Of course, many employers do understand
and promote the business benefits of flexible working, but people are more likely to
tell us of problems than the other way round. What was clear was that where there is
a good two-way relationship of trust, and where employees are valued, a positive
outcome is much more likely.
These are a few of the positive comments we received:

“Our employer was keen to keep us (job share partners) and is happy for us to
arrange matters in a way that suits us, provided we get the work done.”

“My company values my experience and would rather have me back for a few hours a
week than none at all.”

“Flexible working hours has been the best thing that has happened to me in years! I
am now able to collect my daughter from her after school care and give her her
insulin injection myself.”

“I have fulfilled my dream of picking up my daughter after school and being able to be
the first to hear her tales.”

“My ward manager has gone out of his way to help and I am pleased to say that he
has accommodated all of my requests.”



5.     Employer responses
The response rate from employers to our survey was much lower than we predicted,
and interestingly, much lower than our pre-legislation survey which we conducted in
January 2003 to assess employer’s views at that time. This could have several
explanations: either employers do not view this particular piece of legislation as being



                                                                                           15
that important in the whole context of flexible working, or they are simply too busy to
respond (or are tired of constant requests for survey information).

Also, those employers choosing to respond are perhaps those more likely to already
be supportive of flexible working; indeed many employers commented that their
policies were more generous to a wider pool of employees than the “right to request”
on its own.


Base: 35

5.1    Employee size:       ranged from 40 – 65,500 employees

 No. employees                           No. of responding employers
 <100                                    8
 100-5000                                8
 5000 – 10,000                           6
 >10,000                                 4
 Not stated                              9


5.2    Industry sectors

 Retail                                  1
 Transport                               1
 Finance                                 2
 Legal services                          2
 NHS Trust                               3
 Local Authority                         6
 Manufacturing                           2
 TV Production                           1
 Corporate services                      3
 Government department                   2
 Environmental Trust                     1
 Voluntary sector                        2
 Utility company                         1
 Food production company                 1
 University                              1
 Police Authority                        1
 Other public sector                     2
 Not stated                              3



5. 3   Did you introduce a new Flexible Working policy (or change an existing
       one) to incorporate this legislation?

Most employers (68% of those answering) did either introduce a new policy or make
some changes to an existing policy.


                                                                                      16
5. 4   Number of requests received under this legislation

 No. requests              No. of             Employer size
                           employers          (No. employees)
 0                         3                  40 - 4500
 1                         6                  85 – 2600
 2                         5                  40 - 180
 5                         1                  80
 6                         2                  17000
 <10                       1                  34000
 6-10                      1                  2300
 15 -20                    2                  3000
 100-300                   2                  48500
 “A Small number”          1                  19500
 “Many requests”           1                  5000
 Not                       10                 various
 quantified/monitored
 No. receiving any         22 (63%)
 requests


Most employers (63%) had received at least one request, but there does not seem to
be any discernible pattern to the ratio of employees. Most employers have received
less than ten requests. Perhaps of more interest is the fact that a third of employers
are not monitoring the number of requests, and this group includes large employers
with well-developed monitoring processes, such as Marks and Spencer.

5. 5 Number of requests agreed/refused

Most of the employers had agreed all of the requests received so far, although some
failed to answer this question and recording of such requests seems to be very
patchy. One large employer (48,500 employees) had agreed approximately 55% of
requests at the time of reporting, though it had other requests undergoing the
assessment process at the time and reported some Employment Tribunals lodged but
not yet heard. For most employers, these requests were fairly insignificant in number,
particularly where the organisation already operates a flexible working policy.


5.6    Refusal reasons

The only responses were given in the “hypothetical” sense, as being:

“It would be the inability to provide the service because we could not cover the hours”
(Local Authority)

“The only reason we would refuse would be if the organisation could not support the
request or if the role (or individual) was not suitable” (charity)



                                                                                     17
“Proven business reasons” (public sector)

“Can’t re-organise working patterns because of customer demand” (legal services)


5.7    Was the procedure easy to follow?

The majority of employers responding (63%) said “Yes” it was easy to follow. Only
one employer commented on the legislative process itself, but this reflects attitudes
from other employers who Working Families have been in contact with:

“Process - very administratively heavy - trying to communicate to managers. The need to
maintain timescales plus building in systems and mechanisms to track has been an issue.”

“Asking employees to comment (in application forms) on issues such as Impact on the
Business has been difficult - sometimes they don't know and either try and gather too much
information or struggle with it.”


5.8    Has the “Right to Request” legislation had a positive or negative effect
       on your business?

Here employers were fairly evenly split, with almost half saying that it had a neutral
effect as they already operated a flexible working policy which is open to all
employees. Most of the others reported that the change was positive since it gave an
opportunity to widen the policy and promoted a positive culture. Typical was the
quote from Norfolk Police:

“Because the force already has a part time/flexible working policy, we have seen little
change in terms of uptake.”
A few organisations noted some negative outcomes, but these were more to do with
accommodating flexible working generally, rather than being specifically related to the
“right to request” legislation.

Of those responding to the specific question of “What changes would you like to see
in this legislation?” 46% suggested widening the eligibility criteria, and 26% said
“None.”



5.9    What have the positive outcomes of the legislation been for
       organisations?

The majority of organisations who replied to the survey said that they had flexible
working policies and practices in place before the legislation, and that these were
available to all employees, not just parents of young or disabled children (hence many
who were not able to identify the number of requests for flexible working made
specifically under the legislation). Nonetheless, many of these organisations
mentioned some positive outcomes from the legislation, such as an opportunity to
publicise existing options, to inform employees or managers of their rights, or to
provide a stronger framework for the application and assessment process.


                                                                                           18
Typical are the following quotes:

“We had and continue to have positive outcomes from our KingsFlex scheme.”
                                                        Kings College NHS Trust

“People have a framework, line managers have a process by which to agree or disagree”
                                                 Marks & Spencer

“RTR legislation has furthered the cultural change that was already underway in terms of
increasing the acceptability of flexible working and in seeing the benefits for the business and
individual - particularly in areas of the business with few people on flexible contracts.”
                                         Transport Company

“Eversheds introduced a "Lifestyle" policy ahead of the legislation and we go further than the
law requires us to. We introduced our scheme in 2002 and offered a wide range of flexible
work life balance working arrangements. It is open to all partners and employees regardless
of domestic circumstances.”         Eversheds

“Too small a group to be certain, although the discipline of the form may be useful to both in
future. The organisation is so used to these requests and is very accommodating to them that
in lots of scenarios it hasn’t been used.”
                                                              Norwich City Council

“I think people feel more empowered to ask for changes in their work patterns, for the benefit
of their families, and the organisation is becoming a better employer by encouraging people
to apply for flexible working hours.”
                                                     Queen Elizabeth NHS Trust

“Yes very positive, people are impressed that they have these options.”
                                                           Virgin Management


Organisations with fewer flexible options in place prior to April 2003 were more
likely to report positively on specific cases which had been requested and
accepted under the legislation:

“Job share opportunity has allowed us to retain a valued employee whilst creating an
opportunity for a new entrant.”                            Anglia Television

“Very positive outcome for the employee - compressed his full working hours into four days to
enable him to travel home to be with his family for longer at weekends. This enables him to
work longer in the evenings but get everything done. As a result he is motivated because the
arrangement works well for him, which has a positive impact on the company.”
                              Lotus Group



5.10   What have the negative outcomes of the legislation been for
       organisations?

The main negatives (where stated) concern flexible working as a whole, not the
legislation in itself. There remains an issue for employers to adapt working practices,



                                                                                             19
yet more importantly, attitudes need to be educated to a “can do” mentality, as
opposed to the mantra of “its always been done like this before.” Even organisations
that do recognise the business benefits of flexible working still have to promote
awareness and specifically train managers in this regard.

Typical comments included:

“Some managers find the whole concept of flexible working hours difficult to deal
with/manage, however, I believe, with more education and support these hurdles can be
overcome.”
                                                  Queen Elizabeth NHS Trust

“I'm sure that there have been some problems, but under the KingsFlex Scheme both
individuals and managers are required to be flexible and if we are unable to accommodate
the initial request they are asked to think of alternatives.”
                                                        Kings College NHS Trust

“We had an individual who wanted to work term time only and we had to turn that down
because it would have been very hard to manage. Otherwise individuals have been sensible
and they have to put a good business case together and get buy in from colleagues so it
normally works well. We have to be realistic, if someone wants a promotion or perhaps to
manage others, they might not be able to do that if they work two days a week. Some areas
of the business are not ready to accommodate flexible working because they feel that we
should be available for their clients five days a week, ten hours a day.”
                                                      Eversheds

“The one currently under consideration does not fit business requirements, by asking the
individual to revisit the form and consider the effect we are hoping that the employee will
either seek a compromise or understand the difficulties caused by the request.”
                                                       Norwich City Council


A large financial organisation who wished to remain anonymous reported that,
in an employee survey which identified far more positive aspects to flexible
working generally, a few negatives from individuals also surfaced. These
included:

“Feel cut off from employees, difficult to get adequate feedback regarding performance,
telephone inadequacy, always having to justify work.”


Two large organisations were more specific about the legislative responsibility
of employers to justify refusals, and the permanent nature of contractual
changes, particularly for employees in customer-facing positions.

“Particularly where business requirements want everyone to work a certain pattern of hours
i.e.: every other Saturday - not unreasonable in a retail environment and individual requests
to come out of Saturdays. Very unfair to rest of staff but difficult not to agree request on
individual basis and hard to justify in tribunal I would suspect. This is one tricky example -
particularly as precedent could be set...more people request to come out of Saturdays... not
practical - how do you select? Also had difficulties with individuals being very inflexible and
demanding a set pattern. But in general not too many problems and very happy with
legislation in general.”
                                                        Marks & Spencer


                                                                                              20
“There have been difficulties in that certain roles are more amenable to flexible working than
others. Whilst this is acknowledged, expectations can be hard to manage particularly in parts
of the business subject to peaks and troughs. We have received unrealistic requests i.e.
people wanting to work from home yet being in a customer facing role or asking for rosters
and shifts which clearly can't be accommodated. Overall I think there are some concerns
about the permanent nature of the change, particularly in a fast moving environment when
business flows and needs change rapidly. Also in taking a corporate overview of the impact
in terms of manpower needs - each area tends to manage its own response although they
are tracked centrally.”                                       Transport Company



6.     Other comments from employers about the legislation, or
       suggestions for change

Several organisations commented on the limitations of the legislation – specifically
that it has come late for many organisations who already offer flexible working. Many
of the employers in our survey commented on the fact that only a restricted set of
parents have the legal right to request flexible working as opposed to the total
workforce that good practice organisations cater for, and that other issues such as
childcare need to be addressed in conjunction with flexibility.

“We are running a pilot scheme which is in line with the legislation but opens the right to apply
for flexible working up to the entire workforce.”            Lotus Group

“Little impact from the legislation, although it did help focus our minds in introducing flexible
working. I believe that employees who were eligible for the right to request in our Department
didn't because they were able to work flexibly through our own new scheme.”
                                         Leeds City Council

“We got there before they did!”                        Kings College NHS Trust

“Everyone should have opportunity to have a work-life balance, not just parents with children
under the age of six.”                                    Eversheds

“No (comments) but we have extended right to request to all employees.”
                                                                 Marks & Spencer

“The legislation is a positive move giving parents more rights and control over their working
life, now childcare costs, need to be addressed! “
                                                     Queen Elizabeth NHS Trust


One employer questioned the new legislation’s relationship with the Sex
Discrimination Act:

“Most employees who wish to take the issue to tribunal have registered it under the Sex
Discrimination legislation. This obviously requires a higher level of justification than that
seemingly required under RTR. Therefore if a request is to be rejected, what level of
business justification is required in practice?”




                                                                                                21
7.          Summary and Conclusions

Overall, both parent and employer respondents showed a high level of awareness to
the “right to request” legislation. It should be borne in mind that our sample probably
includes parents who are more likely to be negative about their employers (since they
are seeking advice) and employers who are more likely to already be “family friendly”.

40% of parents in our survey had made a request. Of employers, 63% reported
receiving at least one request, although one in ten was not monitoring or recording.
Few employers had refused requests, and in the parent sample, 60% had had their
requests agreed with most saying that they found the procedure easy to follow.

More parents than not, say that the law has helped them, but there are several
caveats to this. In evaluating all of the responses, we have found seven main issues
that parents would like to be addressed. These are:

   i.       More awareness for fathers
  ii.       High cost of childcare
 iii.       Permanent nature of change
iv.         More awareness of legislation and procedures
  v.        Stronger legal powers
vi.         Wider eligibility (to all employees or all carers)
vii.        Extending flexible working to senior positions

Most employers in our survey reported that this legislation in itself has had little
impact in real terms, except in raising the issue in general. For the most part, there
have not been the problems or the volumes expected pre-legislation, and so far, a
relatively low take-up rate. However, perhaps it should be borne in mind that those
who were on maternity leave during 2003 when the law was first introduced, will be
returning to work some time during 2004 onwards and this population may be more
likely to be aware of and utilize this legislation.

There has been general grumbling from employees, both those without children who
see this as an “unfair” benefit, and from parents of children over the age limits. The
other very real issue is that of affordability. Some have commented that it is only the
higher paid who can benefit from flexible working, particularly in the context of the
high cost of childcare.


Based on this research, our recommendations for government are:

           The age restrictions on the Right to Request should be removed and the
            right extended to everyone. The current limit to parents with children under
            six (or disabled children under 18) doesn’t take account of changing family
            needs as children grow older and doesn’t include carers. Our experience is
            that best practice employers extend the right to request flexible working to all
            employees, which directly benefits parents and carers, who are the most likely
            to ask for a change in working patterns. Extending the right all employees
            would contribute significantly to creating workplace cultures where flexi-
            working is accepted as the norm by employees and managers alike. However,


                                                                                          22
      if the legislation cannot be extended to all, we recommend removing the age
      limit and extending the right to all parents and carers.

     There should be a right to have flexible hours rather than a right to
      request them, unless there is an objective business justification for not
      granting the request. This would strengthen the current right and make it
      more meaningful, as well as marrying it up with Sex Discrimination Legislation,
      for which an objective business justification is needed to lawfully turn down a
      request. Such a change would mean the legal provisions overall were the
      same for women and men (whereas at the moment women have better rights
      because they can claim Indirect Sex Discrimination).

     The Right to Request should explicitly offer greater options for
      employers and employees to agree temporary or permanent changes to
      working arrangements (currently employees can technically adjourn the
      process and make a temporary arrangement or agree a trial period, but this is
      not very clear to most employees or employers).

     Remedies under the legislation should be increased. Compensation is too
      limited at the moment and is not a sufficient deterrent for employers. It should
      be changed in line with the Sex Discrimination Act i.e. applicants should be
      able to recover their actual losses and be eligible to receive an injury to
      feelings award.

     There is a need for more awareness-raising and training for both parents
      and employers. Fathers, in particular, need help and support in pursuing their
      rights under the legislation. Some employers clearly need a clearer
      understanding of compliance with the legislation and the business reasons for
      refusal of requests. There should be more training for managers in how to
      manage requests and flexible workers.

     The clear link between the high cost of childcare and parents’ ability to
      work flexibly must be addressed. Parents need more affordable, accessible,
      flexible childcare options if they are to have real choices in how they work.


END

March 2004

Christine Camp
For Working Families




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