The government has published a consultation document – Making flexible working the default – which proposes various changes to the existing rights for employees to request flexible working.
This consultation document comes hot on the heels of the widespread flexible working that business and workers have had to adopt in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Homeworking has increased exponentially and been shown to work in many fields where it was previously rare. The pandemic has also created more awareness of the importance of work-life balance and caring responsibilities for children and family members who are unwell. Although some of this flexible working may not be sustainable in the long term, our eyes have been opened to what is possible and the government is seeking to capitalise on this opportunity.
The proposals do not set out an automatic right to flexible working. However, they do propose to remove the 26 weeks’ qualifying service which would make the right a ‘day 1’ right. The proposals retain the important basic system of a conversation between employer and employee about what will work in their individual situation in terms of balancing the employee’s aims and desires with the needs of the business. The other proposals include:
Potentially making changes to the eight business reasons for refusing a flexible working request if they are no longer reasonable in 2021.
Requiring an employer to suggest alternatives to the arrangements requested by the employer if the flexible working request is rejected, in order to promote compromise.
Changing some of the administrative process, for example exploring whether to allow employees the right to make a statutory request more than once in a 12-month period.
Raising awareness of the existing right to request a temporary flexible working arrangement which the government believes is under-utilised at the moment.
The consultation is open until 1 December 2021. Make your contribution to the debate here.