Workers to receive greater day-one rights over flexible working

New government plans aim to make flexible working the ‘default’ and a right from the beginning of employment. The programme would not be limited to hybrid (office-home) but also include job-sharing, flexitime, and working compressed, annualised or staggered hours.

Workers are to be given the right to request flexible working from the first day of their employment, under new government plans. It’s part of a move to make flexible working ‘the default’. Under the new approach, flexible working won’t just mean a combination of working from home and in the office – it can mean employees making use of job-sharing, flexitime, and working compressed, annualised, or staggered hours. A raft of new measures will give employees greater access to flexibility over where, when and how they work. Flexible working has been found to help employees balance their work and home life, especially supporting those who have commitments or responsibilities such as caring for children or vulnerable people.

Alongside the clear benefits to employees, the government believes there is also a strong business case for flexible working. By removing some of the invisible restrictions to jobs, flexible working creates a more diverse working environment and workforce, which studies have shown leads to improved financial returns. 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.” If an employer cannot accommodate a request to work flexibly, they will be required to discuss alternative options before they can reject the request. For example, if it is not possible to change an employee’s working hours on all days, they could consider making the change for certain days instead. The new legislation will also remove the requirement for employees to set out the effects of their flexible working requests to employers, removing a large administrative burden for both sides.

The measures the government is committing to in full will:

  • remove the 26-week qualifying period before employees can request flexible working, making it a day-one right
  • require employers to consult with their employees, as a means of exploring the available options, before rejecting a flexible working request
  • allow employees to make 2 flexible working requests in any 12-month period
  • require employers to respond to requests within 2 months, down from 3
  • remove the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by their employer

The changes will be introduced through secondary legislation. The government hasn’t announced when the new laws will come into effect. The government has also announced that workers on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income on or below the Lower Earnings Limit of £123 a week will be protected from exclusivity clauses being enforced against them, which restricted them from working for multiple employers. These reforms will ensure around 1.5 million low paid workers can make the most of the opportunities available to them such as working multiple short-term contracts. 

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