Flexible working – how will it impact the dental industry?

illustration depicting flexible working

Rubel Bashir outlines how employers can offer flexible working benefits to current and prospective employees.

Flexible working has become popular in the modern workforce, and it’s no surprise that employees are increasingly requesting it as a benefit. Following the pandemic, many businesses have had to adapt and find ways to allow their staff to work flexibly.

Currently, employees with at least 26 weeks’ employment can make a request for flexible working for any reason. They must provide a written request and the employer has up to three months to give a decision. An employee can only make one request in a 12-month period.

Flexible working can allow employees to request a change to their hours of work, time of work or place of work.

What is changing?

On 5 December 2022, the government announced its proposal to make changes to the right to flexible working. The changes will mean that:

  • Flexible working is a day one right, meaning that employees can request flexible working from the start of their employment
  • Employers must respond to the request within two months
  • Employers must discuss the request with the employee and explore options with them
  • Employees will be permitted to make two flexible working requests per year
  • The procedure to request will be less formal and employees will not need to set out the impact they believe the request will have. 

There is currently no set date as to when this will take effect, but it’s likely to happen by this summer. 

What does this mean for the dental industry?

In the dental industry, where many employees work long hours in high-stress environments, flexible working arrangements can have a significant impact on job satisfaction and overall wellbeing. 

Given the recruitment issues in the industry, offers of flexible working may well improve retention of staff and recruitment prospects. 

When the changes come into force, they will be publicised and are likely to make the right more well known amongst employees, leading to an influx of requests.

For a small dental practice, however, it can be difficult to accommodate flexible working requests. Staff are usually required to attend the surgery and flexibility can impact the ability to service patients.

A situation may arise where a job offer is made to an employee with terms of employment, and upon starting the job, the employee will request a change to the agreed terms. The new procedures can result in an additional administrative burden for practice owners who may have to deal with two requests per year in a much quicker period. 

The changes don’t provide employees with any additional rights other than the ability to make the request. Employers are often within their rights to reject the request. There are still many reasons why they might not grant a flexible working request. Employees will have limited rights to challenge this if it is done in the correct way. 

Practical considerations

Employees that work in a small practice would hopefully apply a common-sense approach and not make requests that they know cannot be accommodated or that were only recently rejected.

Some practical recommendations you may wish to consider are:

  • Updating your flexible working policy to amend the eligibility criteria and timeframes (once the changes take effect)
  • Consider in advance what type of flexibility can work for the business. Is it possible to do some admin work from home, at the weekend or on a job share? 
  • Consider each request fairly and objectively and record the decisions. This means that the dental practice must assess the request on its merits and not discriminate against the employee. Bases for discrimination include race, gender, age, disability, religion or sexual orientation. Even if there’s a good business reason to reject the request, you should consider if another proposal can be made
  • Informal or temporary arrangements can be considered. Often, an employee may make an informal request or request a change for a short duration, to deal with a particular situation (religious observation, childcare etc). These requests can still be considered and temporary changes agreed
  • If you cannot accommodate the request, you should explain your decision fully and clearly. This will prevent a disgruntled employee
  • Employers may reject flexible working requests in many situations. If rejecting, you should ensure your reasons fall within these. 

‘A fair and objective approach’

It’s important for dental practices to understand the legal implications of these requests. They must also have clear policies and procedures in place for handling them. 

By taking a fair and objective approach to flexible working requests, dental practices can create a more positive and productive work environment for their employees, while still ensuring that patient care remains a top priority.  

For more details, visit nasdal.org.uk.

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