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Richard Fox: Acas - your flexible friend

Thursday 24 July 2014

In our blog series on homeworking, Richard Fox, Vice President of the Employment Law Association, talks about the impact of Acas' flexible working and homeworking guidance.

Richard M Fox

Richard Fox is Head of Kingsley Napley's Employment Department, and until recently was the Chair of the Employment Law Association (ELA). He continues to serve as Vice President. 

Richard Fox

I was much struck by Anne Sharp's comments in her April blog on Early Conciliation:

"...our core purpose of improving the world of work for the benefit of organisations and individuals is unchanged, as is the nature of what we do. What has changed is the level of our ambition ..."

That is exactly what many of us have wanted to see from Acas, and I very much believe your time has come!

For many years it has been argued that employment law has become too complex, and that employees and under resourced employers find it impossible to exercise their rights or defend their position, without the assistance of a lawyer.

Help has been at hand. The significantly revised Acas Code of Practice and accompanying Guidance in relation to discipline and grievances at work, introduced in the aftermath of the ill-fated statutory dismissal procedures, was clear and succinct, and provided a blueprint for those operating in the area. Even for experienced lawyers...

Now we have another prime example. We have come a long way with flexible working. In 2003, when the "right to request" was first introduced, it was considered revolutionary. So popular has it become, very few have opposed its extension, since 30 June to all employees (provided they have 26 weeks continuous service).

To keep up with these developments, no one expects employers and employees to be studying the provisions of the legislation, but there are two documents that they most certainly can read and absorb. The Acas Code of Practice and the accompanying Guidance in relation to handling requests for flexible working) are succinct, readable and for the most part very clear.

Yes, there have been issues. Paragraph 8 of the Code, which refers to an employer taking into account how any request may benefit an employee, has caused a flutter of excitement in some quarters, on the basis that it may not accurately reflect the legislative regime. There is the difficult and related issue of "competing requests". Arguably pages 15 and 16 of the Guidance could have been clearer, and possibly more practical, where it suggests an employer may have to resort to "some form of random selection", to distinguish between competing requests.

But in the main, the pattern of taking a particular area, producing a simple yet accurate, readable and clear Code, with a fuller explanatory Guidance to accompany it, may be seen to be a real boon for those who might otherwise have suffered from the burden of new legislation in our area.

And in the related area of Homeworking, Acas provides on its website, really helpful updated notes, effectively summarising all that employers and employees need to know, with links to relevant checklists. Having just read Anne's latest blog on homeworking, I now understand why this is an area covered so comprehensively, since Acas itself finds its own employees with the highest job satisfaction, are those who not only work flexibly, but do so on the basis that they spend a significant time in the office and then the remainder working at home.

In her (Early Conciliation) blog, Anne talks about getting your "organisational ambition" right. I agree. The introduction of the Early Conciliation regime has brought Acas to more prominence than we have seen for a very long time. They should not lose this opportunity, for we should be at the start of a very exciting new chapter for Acas, and I hope the organisation is enjoying the ride!

Read other blogs in our homeworking series

Anne Sharp: Holding on or letting go? Learning to trust the homeworker

Rebecca George: Homeworking - the value and the risks

Sarah Jackson: It's not just about homeworking

Homeworking information from Acas

Acas guidance on homeworking

pdf icon Homeworking - a guide for employers and employees [272kb]

1 Comment

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  • Posted by Steve Williams, Acas Head of Equality  |  24 July 2014, 4:03PM

    Thanks Richard for your insightful blog on Acas' future, and our new flexible working Code and guidance.

    For almost forty years Acas has had a direct beneficial impact on work - advising and supporting employers, employees and their representatives to improve workplace practice and relations and reduce conflict. You are right to say we have a new and greater organisational ambition, which is linked to the new Acas Strategic Plan and yes, we are enjoying the ride and the opportunities that this brings.

    With our Code of Practice on handling requests for flexible working we have tried to describe what a reasonable manner would look like, which has meant that our Code is "mixed". In other words, it covers both legislative requirement as well as what Acas Council considers good practice. For instance, the law doesn't  give the employee the right to accompaniment or a right of appeal but in both cases we say you should allow these. Where we have used the word "should" we hope employers will follow this good practice, and we make this distinction clear upfront in the Code, alongside a description of the word "must" to mean a requirement of the Law.

    We worked closely with Government lawyers to make sure we didn't go beyond the law in our new Code!