Flexible Working Consultation – What Does it Mean for Employees?

Posted By: on 25th October 2021 | Category: Blog

Nigel Targett, Employment Partner at Coole Bevis looks at the Government’s proposals to reform flexible working regulations.

The Government has launched a consultation seeking views on proposals to reform the rules around the right to request flexible working. The consultation closes on 1 December 2021.

What are employees’ rights to flexible working currently?

At present, employees do not have the right to request flexible working until they have completed 26 weeks of continuous service with their employer. Importantly, this is a right to request and not a right to be granted a flexible working arrangement. Furthermore, employees may only make one request per year.

As it stands, an employer must consider the request and reply within three months. They may decline the request, citing any of the following reasons:

  • Extra costs that will be a burden on the business
  • The work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • People cannot be recruited to do the work
  • Flexible working will negatively affect quality
  • Flexible working will negatively affect performance
  • The ability to meet customer demand will be negatively affected
  • There is a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • The business is planning structural changes

The consultation was promised by the current Government in its 2019 manifesto and the subsequent impact of the pandemic and working practices has brought the issue more clearly into focus.

What is being considered in the consultation?

The intention of the consultation is to modernise working practices and enable employees to find a better balance between their work and home life. As such, it considers a number of proposals , including giving employees the right to request flexible working from day one of their employment, whether the reasons for declining (as stated above) remain valid and whether an employee should be able to make a request more than once a year. It is proposed that if an employer cannot accommodate a request, as can be the case, they should think about what alternatives could be offered.

A range of flexible working methods are available, including job-sharing, flexitime, compressed, annualised and staggered hours, and phased retirement – in addition to working from home.  The Government has also announced that it intends to introduce legislation next year to make it easier for carers to balance their caring responsibilities with work.

It remains to be seen what impact the consultation will have on employer’s attitudes to flexible working, however, it is a positive step forward for millions of employees. Please contact me if you would like advice on flexible working or any employment related matter.

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