Making flexible working the default: Government response to consultation

Back in 2019, before we had any idea of the work-from-home and Covid lockdown adventures that were to come, the Conservative Party manifesto committed to “encourage flexible working and consult on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to”.

A consultation on updating flexible working laws took place last year – setting out proposals to amend the right to request flexible working and the Government has now published its response.

It’s looking like the changes it proposes will come into effect sooner rather than later…so it’s vital that employers are careful to discuss working hours and flexibility thoroughly during the recruitment process and that they have good support in place to cope with a potential influx of new requests.

In summary, the response proposes:

Employees are given the right to request (NB not have) flexible working from their first day in a new job. It’s currently only a right for employees with at least 26 weeks of continuous employment.

Employees are allowed to make two requests (previously one request) within a 12-month period, and the response time for employers reduces to two months (previously three months).

Employers have a duty to discuss alternatives to the request, so if they intend to reject the request, they must discuss whether there are any alternative forms of flexible working available.

Simplifying the procedure for requesting flexible working by removing the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might impact upon the employer.

No changes are proposed to the list of eight reasons that an employer has to refuse a request for flexible working.

Inclusive workplaces

The CIPD commented that these new plans would make workplaces “more inclusive” and added that flexible working does not just mean working from home but also includes job-sharing, flexitime or staggered hours.

Keep an eye on our weekly email and we’ll let you know when these changes come into effect.

Want some expert help?

Share the way you work with employees from day one, with clear contracts, policies and a staff handbook all about your business. Take a look at our People Documentation Packages and if flexible working requests get overwhelming, we also offer HR support on an ad-hoc basis or a retained basis for ongoing support.

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