Businesses urged to take flexible approach to flexible working

Businesses urged to take flexible approach to flexible working

Chris Phillips

An employment lawyer is advising businesses to consider carefully the implications of new flexible working proposals, which will give employees the right to request flexible working from the first day in a new job and put more onus on employers to discuss options with staff.

Chris Phillips, employment partner at Thorntons, commented following the publication of proposals, set out in the UK government’s response to a consultation on the issue.

The consultation response advises that employees should be able to ask for flexible working from day one instead of having to complete 26 weeks of service before submitting a request as required at present. It also proposes increasing the number of flexible working requests that can be made in a year from one to two and suggests employers speed up their decision making by reducing from three months to two months the timeframe for responses.

If the measures are adopted employees won’t have to show how their requests can be accommodated as they do under current regulations.

Mr Phillips said: “The UK flexible working scheme gives employees the right to ask their employer to consider a range of options such as working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours, flexi-time, part-time and term-time working.

“During the pandemic, there were calls for flexible working to be a day one right for employees and, while there was some support for this proposal, the government hasn’t gone as far to support giving all employees the right to flexible working. Instead, it has said it supports giving all employees the right to request flexible working from day one of their employment.”

He said that although ministers had stopped short of recommending employees automatically gain flexible working, it is clear that that the government supports greater access to flexibility.

He also noted that the pandemic had changed expectations around flexible working and warned that employers could struggle to recruit and retain staff if they fail to offer atypical working patterns.

He added: “Even if all the proposals come into force, employers still do not need to accept flexible working requests. There are no proposed changes to the grounds of refusal and it is still only a right to request, not a right to flexible working.  The reality is also that many employers are offering the possibility of some flexible working at the point of recruitment and discussions with candidates about different working patterns are front and centre in a way, which was relatively unusual pre-pandemic.

“That being said, these changes would help bring the statutory regime into line with the reality of the current UK job market. Employers need to consider whether they may risk pushing good staff away by resisting accommodation of working patterns which fit in with employees lives outside of work, whether that be for child-care commitments, walking the dog at lunch or avoiding the lengthy commute.

“These once atypical work patterns can give employees a better work-life balance and, with the current shortage in the labour market, some employers may find it necessary to offer flexible working patterns if they want to recruit and retain the staff they need.”

There is no draft legislation set out in the government’s response; however it has given its support to the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, proposed by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi which has had its second reading in the House of Commons.

If the bill passes in its current form, some of the government’s recommendations will be enacted before others. Employers are advised to take advice if they are uncertain of flexible working provisions.

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