Flexible working: overview
The law on flexible working
In April 2003, the Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young and disabled children to apply to work flexibly. In April 2007, this right was extended to cover carers of adults.
There are many different forms of flexible working that cover:
- Working time
- Working patterns
- The place of work
Flexible working time
Flexible working hours, flexi-time and time off in lieu (TOIL)
A flexitime policy allows employees to choose their own working hours within certain limits.
There is a core time during each day when all employees must be working, normally the busiest part of the day from 10am until around 3.30pm.
Outside of the core time employees can decide at what time they wish to start or finish, as long as they work the required number of hours per week. A small excess of time worked may be carried forward and taken as TOIL at a later date.
The advantages of a flexi-time scheme are that it facilitates employees with domestic commitments such as taking children to school or collecting them. Also, by giving employees the freedom to manage their working schedule, flexi-time raises morale and can lead to a better working environment.
Employees in the same workplace have different start, finish and break times – often as a way of covering longer opening hours
Compressed working hours
Employees work their total agreed hours over fewer working days – for example, a five-day working week is compressed into four days.
Voluntary reduced time
Voluntary reduced time, or 'V-time', schemes allow employees to reduce their hours of work by an agreed percentage over a given period of time.
The usual reduction is between five and 50 per cent with the right to return to full-time employment at the end of each period. Pay and benefits are reduced proportionately to the reduction in working hours.
This reduction can be achieved by either shortening the working day, the working week or taking block periods off during the year.
Flexible working patterns
Part-time is when employees are contracted to work for anything less than the normal basic full-time hours, e.g. an employee might start work later and finish early in order to take care of children before and after school.
This is a contractual arrangement whereby two employees voluntarily share one full-time job between them. They also share the pay, the holidays and the benefits according to the number of hours each works.
Each of the job-sharers should be employed on a permanent part-time contract that includes a clear statement of the terms of the job-share arrangement.
Job-sharing works best for jobs in which the duties and responsibilities are clearly defined. It provides a good way of introducing part-time hours into areas of traditionally full-time work.
This is an arrangement that allows employees with children of school age to take paid or unpaid leave during school holidays to look after them. Such employees remain on permanent full or part-time contracts.
This is a system which calculates the hours an employee works over a whole year. The annual hours are usually split into 'set shifts' and 'reserve shifts' which are worked as the demand dictates.
Shift-work is widespread in industries which must run on a 24-hour cycle, such as newspaper production, utilities and hospital and emergency services.
Under a career breaks scheme, an employee can negotiate long periods of time away from work. The employee and employer keep in touch throughout the period and the employee's job is held for him/her until the date of return.
The advantage for employers is that the arrangement enables them to retain the skills of the experienced employee who, by taking the extended leave, would normally have to forfeit his/her position.
Flexible place of work
Working from home
Also known as homeworking, telecommuting or teleworking, working from home is an arrangement whereby employees spend a proportion of their working week working from home.
Applying for flexible working
The applicant making a request for flexible working under the statutory provision, must be an employee with a contract of employment – agency workers or members of the armed forces are not eligible. The employee must:
- Have a child under seventeen or a disabled child under 18
- Be the carer for an adult who is married to, or the partner or civil partner of the employee, or is a relative of the employee, or falls into neither category but lives at the same address as the employee
- Have worked for their employer for 26 weeks continuously at the
date that the application is made
- Not have made another application to work flexibly under the right during the past 12 months
Employers are at liberty to accept requests from all staff, irrespective of their parental status.
Acas has produced a leaflet The Right to Apply for Flexible Working which provides further guidance on the process to be followed.
Other useful links:
Reviewed and updated by the HR Services Partnership - April 2010.
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