If government proposals on flexible working become law, what will the consequences be for employers? Angela Daw explains all you need to know
At the end of last year the government set out proposals to encourage the discussion of enshrining flexible working arrangements in law. The proposals were based on a report by the Work and Parents Taskforce and, if approved, could become legislation in 2003.

What could this mean for construction?
Any such legislation could have a great impact on construction projects. For example, you may well be working on a project that is running behind, but legally obliged to consider an employee's request to work reduced hours.

Under the proposals, employers will have a duty to consider a request for flexible working arrangements for employees who have worked for at least six months and who have children under six, or disabled children under 18. The proposals don't currently apply to the self-employed, however, only to employees.

Are there any specific steps that must be followed by the employer or employee?
A written request should be made by the employee, which the employer must consider within four weeks at a meeting with the employee. The employer must then write to the employee within two weeks either accepting the request, setting out any action on which the agreement is dependent and establishing a start date or, if the employer rejects the request, giving a short explanation of the business reasons for doing so. If the employer does not adhere with this scheme, the employee would be entitled to follow grievance procedures.

You could be working on a project that is running behind, but be obliged to consider an employee’s request to work reduced hours

What counts as an acceptable "business reason" for refusal?
The concept of business reasons is broadly defined and includes the burden of additional costs to the business, inability to meet customer demand, inability to organise work within available staffing, detrimental impact on performance, and inability to find extra staff.

What would it cost employers to go through these procedures?
The taskforce estimates that straightforward cases would cost an average of £150 in terms of the time it takes employers to read, consider and grant the request. However, in some cases, accommodating a request may require a more substantial reorganisation of working patterns or lead to direct financial costs. As a result, the taskforce has stated that if accommodating a request required costs of 10% or more of an employee's annual salary, it would not be reasonable.