The Flexible Working Bill is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons today (28 October).
If passed, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill will give employees a day-one right to request flexible working from their employer. Currently, they need to have been in a job for six months before making a flexible working request.
It would also remove the requirement for the requesting employee to explain how the arrangement will work, and employees would be able to make up to two requests each year, compared with a single request in a year that is permitted at present.
Its sponsor, Bolton south-east MP Yasmin Qureshi said: “While the Bill may not resolve all the concerns on access to flexible working, I believe that it is a step in the right direction, towards that end.
“Ultimately the Bill aims to set the right conditions for employees and employers to have open-minded conversations about what flexible working arrangements might be possible in any given context.
“The idea is to simplify and normalise the process of making and responding to flexible working requests, bringing benefits to employees and employers alike.
“It’s my intention that these measures will help to secure more flexible working where it meets the needs of both individuals and businesses.
“That they will encourage a more constructive dialogue about flexible working and prompt both the employer and employee to focus on identifying an arrangement that might be possible, rather than what is not.
“The changes will also speed up the administrative process and ultimately provide employees with better access to a diverse range of working arrangements”.
Jane van Zyl, chief executive of the charity Working Families, worked alongside Qureshi in developing the Bill. She said it would “remove barriers for millions of employees” if it were passed.
“The Bill is an important step toward making flexible working the default in the UK, a commitment the government made in its 2019 manifesto. Central to this legislation is the strengthening of the right to request flexible working, something Working Families has long called for.”
However, Molly Johnson-Jones, founder and CEO of Flexa Careers, said the legislation could cause complications for employers.
“The Flexible Working Bill looks good on paper, but will be riddled with issues in practice. Giving people the right to request flexible working from their first day of employment doesn’t make a jot of difference when the reality of ways of working often aren’t revealed till much later,” she said.
“It also doesn’t mean that employers have to respond, but may well create tension between employees who make flexible working requests, and companies who wriggle out of accommodating them.
“This will leave workers with caring responsibilities or disabilities – who start new jobs in good faith that their flexible working needs will be accommodated – in hugely precarious positions if their requests end up being turned down. Particularly since few will be prepared to risk jumping straight back into the job market amidst such economic uncertainty.”
She added that it would be preferable for companies to be more open about the sort of flexibility they offer from the earliest stage in the employment lifecycle.
She said: “Countless job seekers rely on flexibility, and what they need is legislation which obligates companies to be transparent and upfront about where they stand on the matter – and to stick to their word. They don’t need a bill that further muddies the waters around flexibility – allowing employers to lay claim to it regardless of their actual intentions.”
Van Zyl said the passing of the Bill would mean reduced processing times for flexible working requests. “Working Families regularly hears from parents and carers who are frustrated with the handling and outcome of their flexible working requests. In many instances, the inflexibility of individual managers has led parents and carers to leave their jobs.
“This requirement will facilitate meaningful dialogue between employers and employees, and lead to improved outcomes for both parties,” she added.
Earlier this week, the Carer’s Leave Bill successfully garnered support from MPs as it passed its second reading in the Commons. This will grant employees with caring responsibilities one week of unpaid leave each year to provide or arrange care for a dependant.