Flexible working set to become the default
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has confirmed it will revamp current flexible working rules in an attempt to make flexible working the default option. It’s hoped this will give employees a greater say over when, where and how they work.
Once passed, it could see more employees making use of job-sharing, homeworking and flexitime arrangements, or working compressed, annualised or staggered hours. Flexible working has, it pointed out, 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. However, it’s also expected that the law change will benefit businesses by facilitating higher engagement, productivity and retention levels.
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 some days instead.
Following the consultation on making flexible working the default option, the Government has confirmed it will implement five key changes:
First, it will remove the 26-week qualifying period before employees are eligible to request flexible working. Instead, it will be a day-one right. As such, employers may have to consider amending their recruitment strategies to prepare for related-questions to be asked during interview stages and for flexible working requests to be submitted earlier in the employment lifecycle.
Secondly, it will require employers to consult with their employees, as a means of exploring the available options, before rejecting a flexible working request. This will create a longer and more in-depth process for employers and HR teams. It may be necessary to train managers on the new way to manage requests as well as allocate additional time to do so.
The government will also allow employees to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period; at the moment they can only make one. As well as set a requirement for employers to respond to requests within two months, down from the current three-month limit.
Finally, it will remove the requirement for employees to set out what effect their flexible working request might have on the organisation and how these should be dealt with by their employer. Some businesses may still ask for input into how the employee believes a change to their working arrangements would change the wider working environment, but they won’t be able to force staff to do so. As a result, the process for considering a request may be longer and more difficult, as employers will have to fully assess how flexible working will impact operations.
The announcement comes alongside new laws coming into effect that will allow Britain’s lowest paid workers to work more flexibly and boost their income through extra work. Workers on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income on or below the Lower Earnings Limit of £123 a week will now be exempt from enforceability of exclusivity clauses, which previously restricted them from working for multiple employers.