HSBC announces flexible working for all new parents

HSBC has announced that it will offer all new parents a part-time role of at least 2.5 days per week at a pro rata salary and the same level as their original role following maternity or paternity leave in order to “help their employees balance the demands of family life with their career development”.

Whilst HSBC’s approach should be commended, it should also be remembered that HSBC is a large multinational organisation which may be in a better position to allow flexible arrangements than other businesses. Flexible working for all new parents, job shares or reduced hours may not suit all business needs. So what legal obligations do you have when it comes to a request from an employee to change their working hours?

Employers are not obliged to make changes to an employee’s working arrangements or hours, or to convert what was a full time role into a part time one. An employee will after all have accepted the role at the hours and subject to the previously agreed working arrangements. The obligation on an employer is to  consider a request for flexible working from an eligible employee, by holding a meeting with the employee within set time frames to discuss the request,  confirming any decision in writing and allowing the employee a right of appeal. If an employer wishes to refuse a flexible working request, it can do so provided that the refusal is for one of a number of good business reasons, including a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, the inability to reorganise work among existing staff or a lack of work in the periods when the employee wishes to work.

Flexible working can have its benefits and for some organisations and roles it works well but an employer only has to consider a request and is not obliged to provide it.

Employers are often wary of requests relating to childcare or maternity, fearful of falling foul of discrimination legislation. However the reality is that provided an employer follows due process and properly considers a request, flexible working is an area where an employer actually has a very wide discretion. Provided that a proper procedure is followed, requests are given due consideration and refusals are on business grounds, flexible working requests should not present a problem to employers.

It is also important to make sure that if changes are to be made to an employee’s working arrangements that both the employer and employee understand exactly what has been agreed and the implications. For example, a change may be agreed on a trial or temporary basis, in order that any potential issues be ironed out and the impact on the business evaluated.

Equally if it is agreed that a change is to be made, the employee may need to understand that the change is permanent, and that hours will not automatically revert back to as previously if there is a further change in the employee’s circumstances – this may be particularly important if a role is to be shared between two employees or the hours of other staff are extended to deal with any shortfall. All changes should be accurately recorded and agreed, to avoid misunderstanding.

Author: Theresa Mimnagh