Next steps: flexible practice

Want to get the facts about flexible working, parental leave and whether to stay registered? Read on.

Emma Wynne Chartered FCIPD, is Managing Director and Senior HR Consultant at Gateway HR. She lectures in HR for both the University of Northampton and the CIPD at Masters Degree level. Emma says, “Any member of staff can request flexible working, anyone can ask to change their contract, change their hours. The majority of people requesting this are parents, and a few are carers. We also see more men taking a hands on parental role, but there is a long way to go.”

If you are faced with a request for flexible work, Emma advises, “Usually with a bit of thought, changing things round, employing additional staff, flexible hours can work. This can be worthwhile for the employer if you are retaining a valuable person in the business. It makes the employee feels valued too.” Not every flexible working request can be allowed, in which case Emma suggests, “Explain that you have looked into it, outline the steps that you have taken which will help the employee understand your decision.”

She adds, “In smaller businesses it can be hard to offer flexible work, employees sometimes don’t think through what they ask. Generally in the front of house team in an optical practice, a good rota with more people working flexible hours has benefits in terms of more flexibility and holiday cover. Remember that as an employer you need to ensure fairness, so no-one gets the best shifts, everyone has to work certain weekends.”

Being a good employer involves more than simply knowing the legislation. Garry Kousoulou of Goodlooking Optics says, “Our business does a number of family friendly things. Your birthday is a paid day off. We’re flexible and offer a start time of 9.15 for parents who do the school run. We also give them the option of extra unpaid time off for summer holidays and half terms. On top of that we hold a family barbeque and try to embrace everyday happiness so people go home feeling positive.”

From the staff point of view, minor changes can make a big difference. Lian Robson says, “I work at Coleman Opticians in Norwich, and they are family orientated employers. I work a four-and-a-half-day fortnight. I have a later start some mornings so I can take my children to school and I have an earlier finish so I can collect the children from the after school club on time. They are flexible when the children have a special assembly at school or a hospital. I think it helps when employers are parents themselves. Because of the flexibility given to me, when I am at work I work even harder for them. Most people will give more when they feel that they are treated well by their employers.”

Flexible working: get the facts

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers. You must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible. Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. This could include assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application, holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee and offering an appeal process.

Parental pauses

Parental leave legislation has changed since December 2014. Emma Wynne explains, “Maternity leave in itself hasn’t changed for the birth mother, but leave can now be shared. Take into account health and safety for the mother, and then leave can then be swapped to the other partner.” Jeremy Simeons has used the new legislation to share the care for his young son. He explains, “My wife and I are both CLOs at Specsavers Norwich and we work together. When my wife was pregnant we agreed to share the leave 50/50 under the then new regulations. Store management were fine with this. It was really simple. I had a lovely summer off work looking after the little one, starting from when Finlay was five months old. Returning to work was okay: I went back for four days a week and now do five again. The advantages to me were that I had a great bonding time with Finlay.”

Pay and leave for parents: the facts

If you’re eligible and you or your partner end maternity or adoption leave and pay (or Maternity Allowance) early, then you can take the rest of the 52 weeks of maternity or adoption leave as Shared Parental Leave. You and your partner can also get Shared Parental Pay in place of maternity or adoption pay.

Re-registration requirements

Taking a break or working fewer hours can be a positive thing for the family, but it also has implications for your career. It is worth thinking about insurance, GOC registration and maintaining your CET requirement before you take a break to avoid unnecessary cost and expense. Katie Docker is Head of Membership Services at ABDO. She says, “It is quite common to take a career break and the job of a dispensing optician lends itself perfectly to this. ABDO membership offers multiple grades to suit your circumstances whether you are trying your hand at something different or going on maternity leave. Frequently parents-to-be going on leave wish to remain a member. They may change membership grade to ‘reduced full’ membership. We also take into account the time of year so we pro rata rates whenever we can. If you wish to continue being a member but are not practising, we can offer an Associate membership. This allows you to maintain continuity with the magazine, CET events, diary and all the benefits that come with ABDO membership.”

You need to consider your GOC membership too. Katie says, “It is mandatory to be a member of the GOC if you are dispensing to children, partially-sighted people and those registered blind under the Opticians Act and also to call yourself a qualified dispensing optician. To become a member of the GOC you will need to obtain professional indemnity insurance (PII), and have CET points. The CET points cycle run over three years and 36 points must be collated within the three years to remain on the GOC register for the next cycle. ABDO can help members obtain the PII insurance and the CET points to re-join the GOC.”

If you have taken a break and come off the register, Simon Grier of the GOC explains, “To get back onto the register you must have 12 CET points in the year before you want to come back on, at least six have to be through interactive learning methods and you have to cover all nine competencies.” Your CET ‘score’ is then set to zero and you will need to gather the normal 36 points over the three year CET cycle. Simon continues, “There is a restoration fee of £70 on top of £87.50 per quarter or part thereof for the rest of the registration year. The registration years run from April to March. So if restoring in April for an almost full registration year the cost would be £420 (£70 + (4 x £87.50)) but restoring in January with only three months of the year left it would just be £157.50 (£70 + £87.50).”

If you are working fewer hours you may fall within the low-income category of GOC membership. You are eligible for the low-income fee of £230 if your total annual income from all sources is £12,000. This may also help you remain on the register if you have a number of months off and your income is consequently lower for that year. If want to re-join the GOC register, Katie adds, “As far as exams go, if you are fully qualified then there is no need to re-sit any exams. A few members arrange to shadow someone for a day or two in a local practice to re-familiarise themselves and update their product knowledge.”

One final point to remember is that even if you have come off the register it is still advisable to maintain professional indemnity insurance. Claims can be made against you some time after you leave practice, and if you don’t continue your insurance, or have ‘run-off’ cover, you may find that you have to pay any legal fees yourself.


Legislation and procedures for flexible work:

Read more about taking a break:

ACAS guidance on flexible working: