The UK government is proposing changes to the way employers must deal with flexible working requests and who will be eligible to make them. The changes would make flexible working the default position for employees. A consultation into changing current flexible working legislation has been launched. This is open until 1 December 2021, where the responses will then be reviewed and a decision on any changes confirmed. Until then, all current rules and processes will remain in place as usual.
What is being proposed?
The proposals aim to bring more employees into the scope of the legislation by making the right to request flexible working available from day one of employment. The consultation is also assessing whether or not the current list of eight business reasons for the refusal of flexible working are still valid; a separate assessment is being completed into the administrative processes involved with managing flexible working requests.
Reasons for refusing a flexible working request are:
- If there would be a burden of additional costs. Employers can refuse flexible working requests if they put a financial burden on the business.
- Inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff.
- Inability to recruit additional staff. For example, what if it were impractical to hire additional staff to cover only a few hours work dropped by an employee?
- It would have a detrimental impact on quality.
- It would have a detrimental impact on the employee’s performance.
- It would have a detrimental effect on the ability of the business to meet customer demand.
- There would be insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work.
- Planned structural changes to the business i.e. restructures or redundancies.
The government has recognised that external events (for example, the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated impact on home-life and caring responsibilities) are, of course, not limited to people who have worked in their roles for six months. It has also been raised that certain underrepresented groups, like new parents and disabled workers, may need flexible working opportunities. However, there is a broader belief that introducing these measures will benefit productivity, motivation, retention and competitiveness and help attract more talent to organisations.
The government is also considering a separate assessment into the administrative processes involved with managing flexible working requests – including the time scales for responding and the ability of employees to make more requests than the one request per year they are currently entitled to. In addition, the government is considering those whose personal situations might be impacted more frequently than once a year by allowing employees to submit a higher number of requests and removing any unnecessary barriers to accessing flexible working arrangements.
Employers should ensure that they plan ahead to avoid disruption to their business. Many office workers have been able to work from home during lockdowns which will make it more difficult for employers to use some of the eight reasons listed above to decline flexible working requests. Covid-19, however, remains with us, and the legacy of the last 19 months will live on for some time to come.
For help or advice on flexible working, get in touch with the team at IHRS, who will be happy to help. Email HRhelp@ihrsolutions.co.uk, call 01604 709509 or visit our website.