Page last updated at 14:42 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 15:42 UK

New flexible work law 'is toothless'

Father and baby
The law aims to help employees' work-life balance (Pic posed by models)

A new law allowing parents with older children to ask for flexible working hours has been heralded as a significant step forward in helping families balance their lives.

But the law has been described as "toothless" by an employee whose request was rejected by employers.

Chris, 39, works in the NHS as a radiotherapy planner. In September he asked to cut his hours so he could help look after his one-year-old daughter.

He researched the new law and asked to reduce his hours by 10%, allowing him to work a four-day week.

But his request was refused by his employers who said his role was too senior to be spared.

"You would think the NHS would be flexible but it wasn't. I had a very good case to allow flexible working," he says.

Rigid excuses

The law is pointless, he argues, because if an employer does not want to allow it, they will find a reason not to.

The law has actually made it easier for employers to turn down requests, he adds, as it provides them with eight rigid reasons why it wouldn't work.

It was very stressful. I've had such a bad experience with this, I've had to have days off work with stress

These include the burden of additional costs, a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, and an inability to reorganise work among existing staff.

"They can pick one of the reasons and tell you what the problem is. For me, it was that for 45 minutes of a Wednesday afternoon there wouldn't be anyone of my experience in the department. They said that would be detrimental.

"But I don't work on the frontline - the work we're dealing with is looking two days to two weeks ahead.

"It was very stressful. I've had such a bad experience with this, I've had to have days off work with stress.

"It's unbelievable, they just don't want to support it."

Chris says employers do not like the idea of flexible working because it would mean they had to work a little bit harder in organising staff and rotas.

"It gets your hopes up that you will be allowed to have flexible hours, but you won't if your employer doesn't want you to," he says.

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