A Shropshire lawyer is urging employers to settle flexible working requests with their staff as soon as they start work, amid concerns changes to the law could lead to a surge in claims.

Darryll Thomas said the switch to home-working for many during the coronavirus pandemic has left employees seeking to keep hold of an improved work-life balance and not return to sitting in traffic or on crowded public transport at rush hour.

But the employment expert and partner at mfg Solicitors said Whitehall proposals to extend the right to request flexible working were a “double-edged sword” and may lead employees to tribunal claims if they are refused.

Currently, employees can only request flexible working after they’ve been in the job for 26 weeks and their employers can then take a further three months to make a decision. The new rules would make it possible for employees to make the request from day one.

Mr Thomas said: “There are benefits to both employees and employers to these changes. Firstly, they help people who are disabled or who have childcare and other caring responsibilities. That’s good for employers, because it means a greater diversity in the workforce, improves the mental health of their staff and leads to better efficiency and productivity.

“But it is a double-edged sword for employers because while the power still lies with them, and they can refuse these requests if there are valid business reasons, the employees can appeal and if they feel they are being treated unfairly, this could give rise future claims.

“For a lot of employers, it will not be feasible to accept all the different ways that employees may want flexibility. The best thing to do is to have this conversation at the very beginning of the working relationship, find out what your new employees want and be honest about what you can and cannot accommodate.”

Darryll is available to advise businesses on the new flexible working rules and other employment matters. Email darryll.thomas@mfgsolicitors.com or call 0845 55 55 321.

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