On the 5th of December, the UK government committed to passing new legislation which will change employees’ rights to flexible working. Flexible working does not only involve a combination of working from home and the office, but also the use of:

  • Job-sharing
  • Flexitime and compressed working (such as a four-day week),
  • Annualised (a pre-set amount of gross pay per month paid to an employee throughout the year)
  • Or staggered hours (different start and end break times for other employees).

The new legislation will:

  • Allow employees to request flexible working from day one, rather than having to wait until they have worked for more than 26 weeks
  • Allow employees to make two flexible working requests a year rather than one
  • Remove the requirement for employees to explain how their request will impact their employer
  • Reduce the length of time employers have to respond to two months, rather than three months
  • Employers will have to discuss alternative options with an employee if the flexible working request cannot be met before rejecting it

This change was part of the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, however, many believe that hybrid working has increased since the coronavirus pandemic means that this legislation will have less of an impact than before.

The coronavirus pandemic allowed many employees to feel more comfortable asking for adjustments, and a public consultation of the bill revealed that 69% of employers already accept flexible working requests on day one.

Despite this, other research suggests that this legislation will bring about significant change.

For example, some employers believe that hybrid working harms productivity, and a survey conducted by the law firm GQ Littler of 700 European employers discovered that three-quarters plan to reduce the amount of time staff spend working from home. This legislation would protect employees’ ability to work flexibly.

The government hopes that by having flexible working requests as a right from day one that more individuals will be encouraged to apply for jobs they would not have applied to before; and to speak freely and confidently about any adjustments they may require. For example, research conducted by the government has revealed that flexible working contracts could attract up to 30% more job applicants.

In particular, flexible working contracts will benefit those on lower incomes. Along with the government’s plans to remove ‘exclusivity clause restrictions’ for employees on contracts of £123 or less a week, those on lower incomes will have more freedom to be able to work a second job, such as working multiple short-term contracts.

Research has shown that the changes to flexible working requests will also benefit women, in particular mothers. Deloitte’s 2022 Women at Work research revealed that globally women are seeking more flexible working patterns, yet 94% of women believe that asking for flexible working would impact their career progression. In fact, many women who seek flexible work resort to leaving their employer or workforce in order to achieve it. This legislation should allow women to feel more comfortable requesting adjustments, and the Trade Union Congress says that flexible working keeps ‘mums in work’ and helps to close the gender pay gap.

The Office for National Statistics also revealed that there is a record number of workers dropping out of the workforce due to ill health. This legislation will aid a healthier work-life balance, benefitting employees’ well-being, as well as allowing people with health conditions, carer responsibilities or the elderly to be able to continue their employment.

In terms of practicalities for employers, the eight legal criteria for refusing requests will remain such as costs, and concerns that it would affect the quality of the employee’s work. The Trades Union Congress has expressed a desire for all job advertisements to clearly state the kind of flexible working that is available, and that employers must give workers the legal right to work flexibly from day one, not just the right to ask. It is also important that managers are trained to recognise and respond to requests for flexible working.

Issues regarding enforcement within sectors such as teaching have been raised. It is clear that this legislation will impact each industry in a different way, and that staff demographics, company finances and managers’ viewpoints will have an influence.

If you have any queries about this legislation, email our in-house employment law expert Lloyd at Lloyd.clarke@attwells.com