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Letter Derek Kemp is the Chairman of Human & Legal Resources and its subsidiary Liquid HR, an outsourcing service for SMEs.

Tech firms climb on flexi-working bandwagon

John Leyden's article on the new legislation concerning flexible working was based on an excellent piece of research by Crown Computing. But I feel very strongly that it suffered from the general media misunderstanding that this legislation will make a huge and immediate impact on unsuspecting employers.

The new law will not give 4 million working parents the right to work away from the office. The new law is merely introducing strict procedures to be followed by both employee and employer to ensure that any such request is considered fairly. However, if an employer follows the procedures, meeting with the applicant within the specified timescales and then rejects the request because, for example, it is too costly, a Tribunal will have no power to reassess that decision.

Employees have long been able to request flexible working to care for children. Women have been able to use the weight of anti-discrimination law if a request is unreasonably refused. Consequently, women have been able to challenge the reasons for refusal for which this new legislation does not provide. Therefore the flexible working regulations don’t have the bite that the anti-discrimination law does.

Having set the record straight I must agree with John's overall conclusion that flexible working is here to stay and to grow, albeit more steadily than he might think.

The article concentrates on the home-working aspect of flexible working. For the last ten years we have worked with many organisations introducing homeworking policies. May I draw your attention to one or two pitfalls that any employer must seek to avoid:

Performance Management – managing performance has been found to be particularly tricky when dealing with home-workers. Many employees honestly believe that they can work as well at home when they have a sick child as they can at work. Our clients’ experience does not support this claim.

Health & Safety – the employer is liable for the health & safety of its employees when they work at home. Workplace assessments must be conducted and insurance cover put in place.

Bullying – if a home-worker is not performing to the standards that their manager expects, and their manager attempts to correct this problem, they must avoid allegations of harassment and/or bullying. They should therefore beware meeting staff at their home on a one to one basis. Such meetings should be at the office or on neutral territory.

Customer Service – despite all of the advances in technology, telephone contact can be delayed; call-back can be less effective than an immediate response from an office and mobile phones can suffer from poor reception, giving a feeling of amateurishness.

Despite all of the above, may I repeat the fact that flexible working is here to stay although this legislation will not help much. Employers must therefore develop pragmatic policies to set their employees’ expectations in order to manage in this difficult arena.

Derek Kemp. ®

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