As has been heavily publicised in the news this week, the UK Government has launched a consultation seeking views from individuals and businesses on proposals to reform flexible working regulations. The consultation, in part, is in response to the “Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families consultation”, and accordingly contains ideas to reform flexible working regulations. This proposal continues the extension of the right to request flexible working, last extended to include all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service in 2014.
As a result of the pandemic, employers across the country have had to adapt to the requirement to work from home where possible. It should therefore come as no surprise that the results of those adaptations should lead to consideration of a more permanent shift towards home working and other forms of flexible working.
What is being proposed?
The UK Government sets out five proposals in the consultation and considers:
- making the right to request flexible working a day one right;
- whether the eight business reasons for refusing a request all remain valid;
- the administrative process underpinning the right to request flexible working;
- requiring the employer to suggest alternatives where possible; and
- requesting a temporary arrangement.
Perhaps the most significant proposal is the potential for employees to be able to request flexible working from day one, rather than, at present, gaining this right after 26 weeks of employment. This means employers will need to consider whether they can offer flexible working before advertising a position. This isn’t as straightforward as assessing whether a job can be done from home. As the UK Government notes, types of flexible working include but are not limited to job sharing, part time, compressed hours, flexitime, annualised hours, staggered hours, or phased retirement.
Despite the title of the consultation, it’s also notable that it is proposed that the right to request flexible working remains just that – it is not a “right to have” flexible working arrangements, and requests will still be able to be rejected. As at present, though, rejections could lead to potential liability under the relevant flexible working legislation, and also under discrimination legislation. Therefore, in addition to more requests, we may see more grievances and litigation subsequent to any changes enacted.
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