Stats suggest fears about flexible workers unfounded

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has received the results of a request under the Freedom of Information Act for information on the number of employment tribunal claims relating to the right to request flexible working – these figures were not specified in the official annual statistics for employment tribunals and the EAT for 2010-2011.

The request has revealed the following information:
• Out of a total of 218,100 tribunal claims accepted in 2010/11 only 277 alleged that employers had failed to consider a request for flexible working seriously in accordance with the statutory procedure
• Of these claims, the majority (229) were successfully conciliated by ACAS or settled out of court
• Of the 48 claims that actually reached tribunal only 10 were successful.

The request was made following the leak of the Beecroft report, which calls for the abolition of the right to request flexible working in addition to the removal of employee protection from unfair dismissal. Whilst the Government was committed to extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, the leaked report reportedly has the support of the Prime Minster and Chancellor.

Commenting on the figures, the CIPD stated that they demonstrate “beyond any doubt” that the fears of the impact of extending the right to request flexible working are “grossly exaggerated”. They further argued that extending the right to request flexible working to all employees was unlikely to lead to an avalanche of requests because most employers already recognise that flexible working is an integral part of the modern workplace and will therefore consider requests from any employee, even beyond the statutory minimum.

The CIPD also made the point that employees increasingly require flexible working arrangements, noting that flexible workers did not just include parents but also older workers who wanted flexible routes to retirement such as job shares and people who were being phased into lasting returns to work after being off sick with health problems.

The CIPD was of the view that the right to request was an example of ‘light-touch’ regulation that tended to support, rather than inhibit business performance. Commenting in the context of the continued global recession, it stated ‘watering down rights to flexible working is more likely to harm the prospects of UK plc by fostering the kind of crude and out-dated attitudes to employment relationships that will put employees off from going the extra mile.’ The Government was therefore urged to continue with its current implementation timetable for extending the right to request flexible working to all employees and to refrain from extending the three-year moratorium that exempts micro businesses and start-ups from new employment legislation.

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