The government is holding a consultation on whether workers should get the right to request flexible working from day one of employment.
And while you wouldn’t have to agree to a request (more on this shortly), you would need to consider it seriously.
The good news is, you probably already have a good idea whether flexible working will work for your business.
Because over the pandemic, millions of people were forced to work from home or take on compressed hours. Then as lockdown came to an end, many changed their working hours to stagger shifts and avoid peak-time commutes.
For some employers, this brought big benefits. Their staff enjoyed a better work-life balance, spent less time commuting, and became more productive.
But for many, the extra flexibility didn’t work well at all. And for others, it remains almost impossible to change shift patterns or allow home working.
Whether flexible working makes sense for your business or not, here’s all you need to know…
So, what could change?
Currently, workers can’t make a flexible working request until they’ve worked for you for 26 weeks or more. And after they make their request, you have up to three months to decide.
But under the government’s new proposal, your staff could ask for flexible working on their first day on the job – and you may need to give a response quicker than the current maximum of three months.
Plus, if you refuse the request, you’ll need to explain why and suggest an alternative work arrangement.
What does this mean for my business?
If these plans go ahead, flexible working could soon become the ‘default’. Which means workers will come to expect more flexibility from their role.
And since that could mean you face a big rush of flexible working requests, it’s worth brushing up on the law…
What does “flexible working” cover?
There are different types of flexible working.
While working from home may be your most common request, flexible working also includes:
- Moving to part time work.
- Job sharing – where two people do one job and split the hours between them.
- Compressed hours – working full-time hours over fewer days.
- Flexitime – where the employee has flexibility over their shift times.
- Annualised hours – where an employee works a certain amount of hours over the year but has flexibility over when to work.
- Staggered hours – different start, finish, and break times.
- Phased retirement – where staff can reduce their hours and work part time as they near retirement.
Can I say no to a flexible working request?
In short, yes.
However, you need a valid business reason to do so. The law gives you eight legitimate reasons why you can say no to flexible working:
- It would be too expensive for your business.
- You wouldn’t be able to reorganise work among other staff.
- You wouldn’t be able to hire more staff to do the work.
- Flexible working would have a negative effect on quality.
- Flexible working would have a negative effect on performance.
- Your business wouldn’t be able to meet customer demand.
- There wouldn’t be enough work for your worker to do during the proposed working times.
- There are planned changes to your business that wouldn’t permit flexible working, such as if you intend to restructure your team.
You currently have three months to respond to your employee. But if the new rules come into force, you may need to be quicker – and provide an alternative working arrangement.
What’s an alternative working arrangement?
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ alternative to a flexible working request. If you can’t accept your worker’s request, you need to consider a compromise that works for your employee and your business.
For example, if your employee wants to work from home every day, this might be impractical for your business. However, if remote work wouldn’t harm your business on a part-time basis – like two or three days a week – you could offer this as an alternative.
What are the benefits of flexible working?
Flexible working provides a better work-life balance for your staff.
And that means you enjoy a host of benefits, too. From higher productivity to a healthier morale, a happier workforce is better for everyone involved.
Plus, it can help with your staff retention and hiring. If you show you’re open to flexibility from the start, you could find it easier to fill your job vacancies.
Remember, every workplace will be different, and every employer will have different needs. It’s up to you to decide what works best for your staff and for your business.
What do I need to do now?
The consultation ends on December 1st.
So between now and then, it’s worth considering the impact flexible working would have on your business. That means you’re prepared for any requests – helping you to respond quickly and in line with the law.
And if you need any help preparing your policies or want support when handling tough conversations with your staff, contact Peninsula. Our team of HR experts are more than happy to help. You can reach us any time of day on 0800 028 2420