Posted on Aug 29, 2014
Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently commented that grandparents who look after their grandchildren could be given parental rights to paid leave and greater financial support as he highlighted that more than 200,000 grandparents are getting a 'raw deal' after stepping in to look after children whose parents have died, fallen ill or are unable to provide adequate care themselves.
Amy Jones, Senior Solicitor at Thorntons Solicitors notes that whilst it will remain to be seen what action David Cameron will take to futher support grandparents in those situations, the recent extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees, with 26 weeks' continuous service, could be of assistance to grandparents with caring responsibilities.
Until 30 June 2014, the right to request flexible working was limited to employees with children under the age of 17 (18 if a child was disabled) or carers. Under the new regulations, grandparents will now be able to make an application for working hours that will suit their caring responsibilities, for example condensed working hours.
Employees can make up to one formal written request in a rolling 12 month period. The request must explain what work pattern is requested, how it will affect the business and how any negative affect could be mitigated.
Employers who receive such requests must deal with them in a reasonable manner and helpful guidance has been produced by ACAS to support the changes to the Regulations.
Employers should meet with an employee to discuss the request and fully investigate whether the request can be granted or if there are alternatives.
If a request is refused, the reason(s) must fall within one or more of the eight statutory business grounds and employers should identify which ground(s) apply and explain why.
The decision should be communicated in writing and any variation to the employee's contract must be confirmed in writing within one month of the change taking effect.
The employee has the right to appeal and the whole process should be completed within three months unless both parties agree otherwise.
Now that the right to request flexible working has been extended, it is likely that employers will have to deal with competing requests, not only from grandparents but from those who would like flexible working for a variety of reasons.
Guidance from ACAS suggests dealing with requests in the order in which they are received and potentially meeting with all the employees involved to see whether, with some adjustment or compromise, each can be accommodated.
Claims of discrimination will be a concern and commentators have suggested it is likely that employers will prioritise requests from employees who may be able to bring a discrimination claim if their request is rejected.
There is no obligation on an employer to make value judgments about the most deserving case - the employer need only look at each request on its merits in the context of its business. However, employers should be wary of potential discrimination issues and ensure they fully understand why an employee is making a request for flexible working, taking advice if there is anything that gives them cause for concern.
A flexible working policy with guidance as to how requests - including competing requests - are dealt with is recommended to ensure that requests are dealt with consistently and reasonably and employees, including grandparents, know what to expect.
Amy Jones, Senior Solicitor in Thorntons Employment Law team