Plans to give employees the right to request flexible working from the first day of their job have been confirmed by the government, although no date has been set for its introduction.
Following a consultation last year, the government said it would take forward plans to remove the 26-week qualifying period before employees can request flexible working and the requirement for employees to set out how their flexible working arrangement would be dealt with by their employer.
Employees will be able to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period, and employers will have to respond to a request within two months, down from three.
Organisations will be required to consult with employees to explore different options before rejecting a flexible working request.
Minister for small business Kevin Hollinrake said: “Giving staff more say over their working pattern makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Put simply, it’s a no-brainer.
“Greater flexibility over where, when, and how people work is an integral part of our plan to make the UK the best place in the world to work.”
Flexible working day-one right
CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said: “We’re delighted the government is bringing in a day-one right to request flexible working. We’ve been calling for this change as it will help create fairer, more inclusive workplaces and improve access to flexible jobs for many people.
“Older workers, those with caring responsibilities and people with health conditions are among those who will particularly benefit.
“This new right will help normalise conversations about flexibility at the start of the employment relationship, with significant benefits for employees in terms of wellbeing and work-life balance. Just as importantly, it will also enable organisations to attract and retain a more diverse workforce and help boost their productivity and agility.”
In its response to the flexible working consultation, the government said 91% of the businesses and individuals were in favour of introducing a day-one right to make a flexible working request.
“We heard that making the right to request flexible working a day one right would help to remove perceptions that flexible working is something that has to be “earned” rather than the norm. It was argued that this would encourage people to seek conversations with their employers about flexibility at work,” it said.
The CBI responded: “This will support a shift in workplace culture, moving away from the notion that the ability to request flexible working is an earned benefit… the current qualifying period can act as a disincentive for employees who want to move jobs but, because of personal circumstances, do not want to wait six months before formally requesting a change in their working arrangement.”
It was suggested that making flexible working more accessible would allow a further 2.2 million people to enter the labour market, including unpaid carers.
This new right will help normalise conversations about flexibility at the start of the employment relationship, with significant benefits for employees in terms of wellbeing and work-life balance.” – Peter Cheese, CIPD
However, 7% of respondents were concerned that making the right to request flexible working a day-one right would be unnecessarily disruptive to their organisation. This included respondents in education and hospitality, where flexiblity is often built into roles through shift-patterns.
Chris Sanderson, CEO of hospitality recruitment app Limber, said: “When scheduling your staff, the rota only fits one way, and constant claims for flexible working, now backed up by this proposed legislation, will put yet more strain on staffing in those industries.”
Some said that negotiations about work arrangements should not be immediately reopened once an employee has accepted their job offer, since this could negatively impact the employee-employer relationship.
The government response concluded: “There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to work arrangements and it is important that the legislation remains a right to request, not a right to have. The government believes that early conversations about flexibility in the job design, recruitment and appointment phases should be encouraged – and this measure will directly support that goal.”
Steve Collinson, chief HR officer at Zurich UK, said: “As a flexible working employer for over a decade, Zurich has seen the benefits that this brings on both sides. In 2019 we went one step further and introduced our part time jobs initiative where all roles are available on a part-time or job-share basis as well as full time. Overall applications to the company have been boosted by over 50% as a result.
“Offering flexibility removes barriers for applicants and enables us to access a whole new pool for talent. This is a priority in the current climate but also benefits working parents, carers, those with portfolio careers or other interests they want to pursue. Workers want a new deal and are no longer prepared to work in outdated and rigid patterns.”
The consultation also found that:
- 62% of respondents did not feel the eight reasons for rejecting a flexible working request remained valid (extra cost; unable to reorganise work; cannot recruit someone else to do the work; negative effect on quality; negative effect on performance; negative effect on the ability to meet customer demand; lack of work during the proposed working times; business planning structural changes);
- 94% supported the need for organisations to consult with the employee before rejecting their request, however 52% said this would place a burden on employers;
- 74% supported reform to the number of statutory requests employees could make within a year, and the employer response timeframe.
The changes will be introduced through primary and secondary legislation “when parliamentary time allows”. The government will also launch a call for evidence to better understand how informal or ad hoc flexible working works in practice.
Organisations will not be able to enforce exclusivity clauses against people on or below the lower earnings limit, allowing them to take on multiple jobs to boost their earnings, if they wish.
Cheney Hamilton, CEO of flexible working recruiter Find Your Flex said: “Businesses that adopt multi-portfolio workers will benefit from a new found agility and sustainability and will be well positioned to adapt quickly to the future and whatever it holds.”