Jonathan Maude: The legal perspective on flexible working arrangements

jonathan maude

‘Flexibility’ is the buzzword around modern working. If employers do not embrace a flexible working pattern, they are likely to lose talent to competitors, and in the current uncertain market and economic conditions, this is the last thing they can risk. So, employers need to fully embrace flexibility for the good of their employees and themselves.

Clearly, there should be a structure around flexible working arrangements. The legal perspective involves ensuring that contractual terms and working policies align with the work patterns being used. There is a wide spectrum of patterns available, including part-time working arrangements, home working and project-based working, as well as some more innovative methods.

An example of an innovative method is to use a permanent employment agreement, under which an employee is only required to actively work for a 10-month period. The additional two months are taken as a form of unpaid leave, where the employee is free to do as they wish, other than work for other employers. This is a point which needs to be covered off legally in the employment agreement. The two-month period of leave is taken as a block, and is subject to business need; again, a point to be covered in the agreement.

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The advantage to this arrangement is that the employee has job security but also gets a life. The typical business demographic is employees direct from university. The organisation has a better chance of attracting graduates over and above competitors, and the individual is able to travel and gain life experience, in the knowledge there is a job to come back to.

There are business risks associated with flexible working arrangements, in particular ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. The employer remains liable for the activities of the employee, wherever and whenever they are working. Legally, employers should advise employees of the standards expected. This is usually covered in the corporate policies, such as the IT policy, anti-bribery policy and equal opportunities policies, for example.

With the right legal structures, employers can attract, encourage and retain staff and at the same time ensure the business is well protected.

Jonathan Maude is chair, UK/EU employment law committee, at Vedder Price