At present only employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous service and who are parents of children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) or who care for dependant adults are eligible to make flexible working requests. This is to change significantly as new rules come into force.

As of 30 June 2014 any employee will be eligible to make a flexible working request, regardless of the reason, so long as they have at least 26 weeks' continuous service.  This means employers could find that they are approached by employees who wish to work flexibly because, for example, they wish to train for a triathlon or because they wish to take time off to volunteer.

Those used to dealing with flexible working requests under the current system will be used to the prescriptive process that has to be followed. This too will change on 30 June and will be replaced with a more relaxed system.  The new requirements are that employers will have to deal with the application "in a reasonable manner" and notify the employee of the decision within three months of the application being made (including any appeal stage).

As currently, requests will only be able to be refused if one or more of the eight statutory reasons apply. Employers should consider the benefits to the employee and themselves in addition to any adverse business impact. Employers should try to maintain a consistent approach when they receive more than one request at the same time.  There is, however, no need for employers to make a value judgment regarding the outcome; they can deal with the requests as they are received.

The government hopes that expanding the right to make a flexible working request will benefit employers who will ideally be able to retain qualified and experienced employees, while boosting the morale within the workforce.