Flex Working Hours
The long hours culture and the intensification of work
Both a cap on working hours, and a broader reorganisation of working time, are necessary pendants to policy approaches based on individual rights to flexible working.
The experience in countries such as Germany, France and Denmark shows that reductions in working hours, where employees are consulted over implementation, can provide greater work-life balance without reducing competitiveness.
Flexible working rights in the courts In spite of the ‘soft’ framing of the Right to Request, the number of claims to tribunals or lower level labour courts in the UK is higher than in Germany and the Netherlands. In the absence of well developed workplace mechanisms for dispute resolution, more UK employees turn to tribunals. Yet in all countries, litigation has been very limited (data are available from Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and two Australian states). In the UK, flexible working disputes annually have comprised at most 0.2 per cent of all tribunal claims since 2003.
Court cases help to clarify the boundaries of flexible working rights and can send strong signals to employers about their obligations to facilitate change. They also provide an illustration of the issues that arise from flexible working requests.
Court cases have successfully challenged employers’ blanket refusals to consider alternative work arrangements or seriously to consider the feasibility of a request. In the
UK, the combination of legal principles established through indirect sex discrimination case law with the procedural emphasis of the Right to Request has strengthened women’s ability successfully to request flexible working in court, in part because employers are aware that this is the prevailing interpretation of the law.
Male employees are disadvantaged by the ‘soft’ framing of the Right to Request because, unlike women, they are unable to claim