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Friday, 09 December 2022 10:19

Day-One Flexible Working Requests

The Government is pressing ahead with proposals to make the right for employees to request flexible working the default from day one of employment. This week, entrepreneur, James Dyson, blasted the Government plans as “economically illiterate and staggeringly self-defeating”. Are minsters over-reaching on this one, and implementing legislation in what is fundamentally a business matter that employers should be allowed to work out for themselves.

Under current legislation, employees must have worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks before they can submit a flexible working request and can only submit one such request in any 12-month period. Under the proposed legislation, there would be no qualifying period and two submissions would be allowed every 12 months.

Furthermore, employers would be required to consult with their employees, fully exploring all options before rejecting a request and do so within two months instead of the current three. The new law would also remove the requirement for employees to explain to their employer how a flexible working request might work – the onus instead falling upon the employer to come up with the solution.

The proposed legislation comes on the back of a government consultation which gathered 1,611 responses. 1,342 (83%) of the responses were from individuals with just 114 from businesses of various sizes; the remainder coming from consultancies, academics, and campaign groups. Despite this significant imbalance, the Government feels justified to plough ahead with implementing the legislation which could come into effect as early as next October.

Cynics might conclude that this is the action of a weak Government, keen to garner support from the electorate. Indeed, data released last month suggests Britain’s economy lost £127.9bn in 2022 as a result of low employee productivity and absence. The proposed legislation has its supporters however, with many citing improved employee morale and wellbeing, leading to improvements in productivity.

The explosion in flexible working, and in particular, working from home, has crept up on us somewhat, as a side effect of Covid. Had we not experienced the pandemic, it’s unlikely that that such significant changes to our working practices would ever have been on the radar for most of us. We would still be continuing our 9 to 5 lives working from the office. So, such a rapid drive to impose flexibility on employers does appear questionable when so many businesses are still experimenting and trying to work out exactly what the best solution is for them.

The government has at least refrained from making the legislation a ‘right to have’ and it remains only a ‘right to request’. This is still enough however to create huge distractions for businesses who may find themselves overwhelmed with flexible working requests. Even one or two requests could create administrative challenges for many, and that’s before the logistical challenges are addressed, of implementing any successful requests.

Flexibility in work covers a range of options for employees including working hours, changes to the place of work, job sharing, shift work and flexitime. All are aspects that workers can ask to be amended under a flexible working request and they must be given due consideration, even as the law stands now.

If and when the day-one right comes into effect, to avoid having a new recruit start a job and immediately ask to reduce their hours to a three day week, employers will need to be much sharper with recruitment advertising and job descriptions. Ambiguity must be avoided. Recruiters will need to pre-emptively consider why a job cannot be done flexibly and make sure this is communicated at the outset so that potential applicants can de-select themselves if flexibility is something they require.

Equally of course, options for flexibility can be advertised to make a position more attractive and appeal to a wider audience. We sometimes see this already when recruiters include part-time or job-sharing potential in their advertisements.

The new legislation may have the effect of polarising job roles to those that can be done flexibly and those that cannot. With campaigners pushing strongly for a culture of more widely accepted flexible working in the UK however, employers might want to start thinking about what their stance and approach to flexibility will be.

In the meantime, make sure your job descriptions and contracts of employment are carefully worded, clear and unambiguous.

For help and support with implementing flexible working arrangements and with changes to contracts, call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Read 1166 times Last modified on Friday, 09 December 2022 10:27

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