The Government has recently announced a new proposal, to allow every employee in Great Britain to request flexible working – regardless of time served in employment.
This ‘day one’ entitlement is designed to give workers more choice over when and where they work, and ultimately lead to more productive businesses, whilst accommodating both staff and employer needs.
Research has shown that companies which embrace flexible working can attract better talent, improve staff motivation and reduce staff turnover. The pandemic and subsequent lock-downs have certainly demonstrated that working from home is entirely feasible for the majority of employees. As we have emerged from lockdown, many organisations have also embraced new ‘hybrid’ models of working, where employees spend some time in the office and some time working from home.
Currently, an employee can request flexible working once they have been employed for six months, and an employer has three months to consider any such request. They do not need to allow flexible working if they can demonstrate a clear business reason why it would not be feasible, such as a drop in output or quality of work or the strain on others who do not have spare capacity.
The proposals for new rules will allow employees to request flexible working from their first day of employment. They also look at cutting the current three month period an employer has to consider any request. In addition, if an employer cannot accommodate a request, they would need to give clear reasons and suggest alternatives they could offer.
A full range of flexible working, including working fewer or different hours, working more hours on fewer days, working from home for some or all the time, and job shares are all considered as part of the consultation document released by the Government.
The proposals have been welcomed by some, with James Timpson, Chief Executive of Timpson Group saying: “Giving workers more choice about how they work will not only inspire and motivate staff, it will also help businesses attract and retain the best talent to grow their companies.”
However, some unions have suggested the proposed changes do not go far enough, and that
Instead of obliging people to ask for flexible working, job adverts should set out what sort of flexible working options are available for the role, or it should be routinely discussed at interview stage.
There is concern amongst business leaders that flexible work requests will be made on day one of employment, notwithstanding that an individual will have signed a contract of employment on or before day one that sets out working arrangements with no flexible working included. So there is a sense that these day one flexible working requests will hijack pre-agreed non flexible working arrangements.
Whatever version of these changes to flexible working rights that do end up being introduced, what is clear is that employers will need to be vigilant in ensuring they have the correct processes in place to consider flexible working requests in a timely and fair way and be prepared to justify why a flexible working request may not work for the business from the get go.
It would also be sensible for businesses to revisit their existing flexible and homeworking policies (or develop these if they do not already have them) to make sure they are fit for purpose and can also adequately balance the needs of employees and the business.
Offering more flexible working options, where appropriate, can be hugely beneficial to businesses, leading to more productive and loyal employees. Yet if not handled correctly, refusing to consider or not properly responding to flexible working requests could lead to challenges and disputes in tribunals.
We regularly help businesses develop flexible and hybrid working policies. Please get in touch with one of the team for more information and advice on how to prepare for these new rights.