Currently, to be eligible to make a flexible working request, employees must have been employed by the same employer for a period of at least 26 weeks. Employers are required to deal with any such requests in a reasonable manner.
The lockdowns that we saw due to the Covid-19 pandemic meant that employers, on a large scale, had to adapt and accommodate staff working more flexibly at short notice.
Now that most UK businesses have returned to some sort of ‘normal’ working life, employers are trying to find a balance between how things were and how they can still adopt flexible working for their employees.
Upcoming legal changes
The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill 2022-2023 is currently working its way through the House of Commons. Whereas the previous Bills regarding flexible working, submitted in 2017-2019 and 2019-2021, did not receive a second reading, the current 2022-2023 Bill received its second reading in October 2022. The government responded to this consultation on 5 December 2022 to confirm its intention to introduce changes to the right to request flexible working legislation.
The measures that the government is committing to in full will:
- make flexible working a day-one right;
- require employers to consult with their employees and explore options, before rejecting a flexible working request;
- allow employees to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period;
- require employers to respond to requests within two months (previously they had three months to respond); and
- remove the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by their employer.
What does this mean in practice?
The future changes come as more action is needed to increase the uptake of flexible working arrangements to create more inclusive, diverse, and productive workplaces that suit both the needs of employers and employees.
Flexible working is often seen by what it isn’t (i.e., not the conventional 9-to-5) as opposed to what it is. Flexible working practices are working arrangements that give a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work. Therefore, options also include term-time working, job sharing, flexitime, annualised hours and hybrid/remote working as well as part-time working.
Whilst many employers may fear this change as a departure from traditional working structures, there are compelling reasons to embrace the change. Flexible working can be seen as a win-win arrangement for both employers and employees as it allows employees to ensure they have a good work-life balance and can therefore lead to improved job satisfaction, productivity, and retention. It also allows employers to help reduce employee burnout, absenteeism, and turnover.
Alongside this, offering flexible working can give a competitive edge when it comes to recruitment and widen the pool of talent, especially for those hard-to-fill roles. Post-pandemic research shows that the majority of job-seekers rank the ability to work flexibility high on their personal agenda when it comes to finding their next role.
With studies demonstrating the business case for employers to engage in flexible working aligned with the advances in legislation, it is hoped that this will accelerate the increase in the number of employers adopting flexible working practices.