In September 2021, the government published a consultation setting out a range of proposed amendments to an employee’s right to request flexible working. The aim of the consultation was to encourage flexible working and make it the default position – whether that be job-sharing, flexitime, remote working or working compressed, annualised or staggered hours.
The government has now released its response to the evidence collated from the consultation. B P Collins’ employment team explains the main outcomes:
- Employees will be able to request flexible working from their first day – rather than after 26 weeks.
- Employers will have to consult with employees to explore alternative flexible working options before rejecting their request.
- Employees will have the right to make two, rather than one flexible working request in any 12-month period and the time frame for employers to respond to requests will be shortened from three months to two months.
- Employees will no longer be required to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by their employer.
- There will be no change to the current grounds on which employers can refuse requests.
Small Business Minister, Kevin Hollinrake, has said: “Giving staff more say over their working pattern makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Put simply, it’s a no-brainer.”
Primary legislation is required, but the Government will continue to support the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill as it progresses through parliament. This means that the change allowing employees to make two requests within 12 months and the reduction to the decision time will come into force sooner than the other proposals.
Greg Clark, employment solicitor, comments:
“Reducing the time to request flexible working from 26 weeks to day one could lead to more requests being made, but not necessarily an increase in requests being granted. A right to request flexible working from day one is not the same as a right to demand flexible working from day one. If the new bill passes, employers will still be able to reject flexible working requests for the same reasons that they can now. The earlier a flexible working request is made in employment, the more likely it is that the employer will be able to rely on one of those eight reasons.
Given the possibility of rejection of day one requests, employers should be aware that employees making a day one request may well be asking for less than they really want, with a view to proving that the flexible working arrangement works well. The bill also provides for flexible working requests to be made every 26 weeks rather than every 12 months. So, if the day one request is granted and the arrangement is successful, it’s entirely possible that the employee will go on to make a further flexible working request in future.”
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