The government has recently published its response to its consultation on updating the law on flexible working. The proposals include the right to request flexible working from day one of employment, allowing employees to make two requests in a 12-month period, introducing a new duty to discuss alternatives to the request and simplifying the procedure to request flexible working.
What rights do employees currently have?
Currently, employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment can make a request for flexible working for any reason. An employee can make one flexible working request in any 12-month period and the changes they can apply for include the hours they work, the times they are required to work and their place of work.
The employee starts the procedure by making a written request. Their employer then has three months to consider the request, discuss it with the employee and notify the employee of their decision.
There is a requirement for the employer to deal with the request in a reasonable manner, and they can only refuse a flexible working request for eligibility reasons or for one (or more) of the eight prescribed reasons. If an employer fails to follow this procedure then the employee can bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal.
What are the government’s proposals?
- Employees will no longer require 26 weeks of continuous employment to request flexible working and it will become a day one right. The government has emphasised in its response, that this remains a right to request flexible working and not an automatic right for an employee to work flexibly.
- Employees will be allowed to make two flexible working requests within a 12-month period rather than one.
- The time for employers to respond to a request will reduce from three months to two months.
- There will be a new duty to discuss alternatives to the request and so an employer must consider whether there are alternative forms of flexible working available if they are going to refuse the employee’s request.
- The requirement for employees to set out how their flexible working request might impact their employer will be removed and so the procedure for requesting flexible working will be simplified.
There will be no change to the eight reasons an employer has to reject a request for flexible working.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, flexible working such as homeworking and hybrid working has been introduced by a number of employers. As we emerge from the pandemic, it seems employees are keen for these practices to continue and would like to maintain the benefits flexible working can bring them in terms of their wellbeing and work-life balance.
Flexible working requests can include not only homeworking and hybrid working but also part-time working, compressed hours, job-sharing and term-time working (amongst other variations) and there are actually a wide range of potential work patterns an employee could request.
It appears there is a growing interest in flexible working and the practices we adopted during the pandemic are here to stay. Although the government’s proposals are not set out in any legislation just yet, they emphasise a recognition of the importance employees place on flexible working and indicate that the government hopes to normalise flexible working patterns and make working flexibly more accessible for employees going forwards.
If you have any questions about making an application for flexible working or need advice on how to deal with an employee’s request under the statutory scheme then please do not hesitate to contact one of the Employment Team.