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Below are some of the latest questions sent to us:

Q. Do we as an employer have to keep records of the hours worked by our employees?

The Working Time Regulations state that employers are required to maintain up-to-date records of all workers who have not signed an opt-out agreement under which they agree that the 48-hour maximum working week is not to apply to them. Employers are required to keep these records, which are adequate to show that they have complied with the provisions on maximum weekly working time, for two years. The Regulations do not specify the format in which such records should be kept.

There are a wide range of options for recording this working time,

  • Manually, by the shift leader, for example, making a note of hours worked on a piece of paper
  • Computerising this process perhaps via a spreadsheet or database
  • The more technical option of time and attendance systems with or without swiping in/out etc...

Pasfield Curran has experience with all of these options. We have pro forma paper record systems, have written spreadsheet solutions for smaller business (up to around 100 people) and for larger businesses we have now linked up with Crown Computing who can provide the UK’s leading Workforce Management solution offering advanced Time and Attendance, Workforce Scheduling and Activity Management capabilities. For more information please look at www.crowncomputing.co.uk

It is not necessary for employers to maintain records of the hours actually worked by opted-out workers, they may simply record the relevant workers' names, together with copies of the signed opt-out agreements. However for payment and attendance purposes such records should be held in some format in any case.

Q. With a flexible working system that fixes the overall number of hours in a time period, what do we do if demand for work increases?

Ideally any business wants to employ the correct number of people at any time, too few and the work will not get done, too many and overhead costs are too high. If demand for work increases then, it obviously depends on what system of flexible working you have implemented and how long the increased demand is expected to last and whether or not you are able to increase productivity.

If possible temporary workers could be used and whilst providing some flexibility they might not have the right skills or may require extended training periods. Companies also often find that temporary employees lack commitment to the business.

Assuming your flexible working scheme allows you to vary the hours worked then you could bring hours forward to give you time to decide whether or not you need to recruit and train more people. If reserve hours are available then these could be used.

If the uplift in demand is expected to be longer term then ultimately this implies that you either need to employ more people or look at productivity improvements. There are occasions when we have to advise clients not to manage extended uplifts through their flexible working scheme, but to face the reality that they need more people.

Q. What is the reference period over which average weekly hours are calculated in the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations?

The working time of “mobile workers” (*) is restricted to an average of 48 hours a week over the relevant reference period, and must not exceed 60 hours in any week. No opt-out from the average 48-hour week is permitted. There are several methods that can be used to calculate and monitor compliance with this weekly average. The method chosen must be agreed in advance.

The standard method sets out specific reference periods based on calendar dates. These begin at midnight on the nearest Monday morning on or after 1 April, 1 August and 1 December each year. Alternatively the employer could enter into an agreement to apply different fixed reference periods of up to 26 weeks.

* A mobile worker is any worker forming part of the travelling staff (typically drivers and vehicle crew, but also trainees and apprentices) who is in the service of an undertaking which operates road transport services for passengers or the movement of goods. Mobile workers include drivers who work for hire and reward companies or companies with own account operations.

Q. I have read that annualised hours is a total concept and has to be introduced into the whole organisation. In your experience is this the case?

It is a myth that annual hours must be introduced for the entire organisation. A good annual hours design is seeking to maximise flexibility and motivation of staff. If that has already been achieved in parts of the organisation then annualised hours may not be appropriate there.

Where annualised hours is appropriate for a department or workgroup it is important to consider the implications on working interfaces. For example, if one department is able receive overtime benefits for taking longer to complete tasks (i.e. incentivised to work slowly) and another department is motivated through annual hours to complete work to the correct quality in the minimum time (i.e. incentivised to work faster) then resultant frictions will occur.

Q. One of my employees has let it be known that they are going to ask for reduced work hours to help with childcare. They do not have the right in their contract of employment to reduce their hours. Operationally we are not sure we could cope. What rights do we have?

Many people don’t realise that to go from full time to part time working, where children are involved, falls within the legislative rights of an employee to request flexible working. If the employee does make a request then there is a statutory application process that both the employee & employer must follow.

Firstly they need to apply in writing at least two weeks before their child's 6th birthday or 18th birthday if the child is disabled (This is likely to change in the current political climate with all major parties supporting rights for all parents) The application must be dated and state that it is made under the statutory right to request a flexible working pattern. It must state when they want the pattern to start, full details of how it will work, how it will affect the business and how such effects could be dealt with. It must also confirm the relationship they have with the child they are responsible for. There are standard forms to give all of this information through the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

As an employer once this formal process has begun, you must meet the employee to discuss the application within 28 days. At this meeting you may suggest alternatives to the proposed working pattern or suggest trial periods but you must consider the request properly and be sure to avoid any possible discrimination eg. racial or sexual.

You must let the employee know the decision within 14 days of the meeting. If you deny the request then you must explain fully the business reasons which must be one of the following

  • Burden of additional costs.
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
  • Inability to recruit additional staff.
  • Detrimental impact on quality.
  • Detrimental impact on performance.
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  • Planned structural changes.

The employee may appeal and another meeting must than take place within 14 days, discussion held and final notification made less than 14 days after. Should the employee disagree or feel the process has not taken place along these lines then options to go to tribunal or arbitration are available.

Q. An office based member of my staff has requested to work from home. What are the pros and cons?

In our experience there is no hard and fast answer and you will have to make an overall judgement.

The main advantage would be that of greater motivation and commitment from the member of staff concerned through

  • Reduced travelling time and costs.
  • More flexibility to balance work and home life.
  • More control over work
  • Increased job satisfaction

From your point of view setup costs, e.g. computing and communications, are reducing all the time due to improvements in technology. You may find that you get higher productivity from the individual as they have fewer interruptions than usually occur in the normal office environment.

Drawbacks may include:

  • Social isolation, not being part of “the team”, reduced face to face communication.
  • Reduced general knowledge of the organisation and developments within it.
  • Difficulty separating work from home life.
  • Lack of control by the business over its employee

Is it possible for you to consider a compromise, to reorganise work to allow the employee to attend the workplace on specified days within the week, whilst still allowing some homeworking?

Q. In principle I believe that annualised hours would work well in our business but I have heard that it is too rigid?

It is true there are annual hours schemes in existence that do not allow for change within the year. They are generally not the better schemes. Those implemented with our assistance have built in review processes that allow for changes from both the business and employees. One example where this reassessment has been used to good effect is at Smith & Nephew. A good design will allow for short term emergencies or “hiccups” to what has been planned.

It is our experience that annual hours schemes have far more flexibility than traditional working as they allow for a much longer time period to manage changes. Indeed, any time scale longer than the traditional week can be beneficial. One of our clients, Jersey Harbours, recently introduced a flexible working system based on a 5 week cycle.

Q. I understand there have been recent changes in rest breaks in drivers time, can you clarify what the rules are?

Yes, there have been recent changes. The Drivers Working Time Regulations state that after no more than 4.5 hours driving a break must be taken. Breaks must be at least 45 minutes after this amount of driving. This break may now be replaced by a break of at least 15 minutes followed by a break of at least 30 minutes, each distributed over the period. It is important to note that the regulations require that working time must be "interrupted" by breaks. This means that you must resume work after any breaks have been taken so they cannot be taken at the end of a shift.

For further information please see the legislation section of this site or full guidance from the Department for Transport.

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