Possible changes to flexible working


11 October 2021

By Josh Fresle

The Government is considering expanding the scope of flexible working requests, giving all employees the right to request flexible working from their first day.

Since the pandemic has forced a majority of businesses to adapt to remote working, more importance is being placed on the benefits of flexible working for employees’ practically and in respect of their mental health, and the positive effects flexible working can have on a business’s productivity.

As it stands, employees have the right to make statutory applications for flexible working if they have been employed by their employer for at least 26 weeks. The government is now considering proposals to allow employees to make flexible working applications from when they start new jobs instead of having to wait six months.

Currently, if an employer receives a flexible working request from an employee, they must consider and respond to the request in a ‘reasonable manner’ and within 3 months unless otherwise agreed with the employee. Requests that are rejected must be for one of the eight reasons as set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996. The new proposals, if accepted, will require employers to respond to flexible working requests more quickly and provide an explanation of why requests are refused.

There are currently procedures in place which employers should be careful to follow and there are likely to be substantial penalties for refusing a flexible working request without reason. A recent Employment Tribunal case saw an Estate Agent being awarded almost £185,000 compensation for sex discrimination after her flexible working request was refused by her employer.

In March, Totaljobs.com, a UK job website, published the results of a survey involving 208,807 people from 190 countries which found that 89% of workers wanted flexibility to choose where they do their work.

While these proposals represent a shift in balance towards the rights of employees, these proposals still ultimately leave the decision up to employers and employees must adhere to their employers decision on the flexible working request (provided they have followed the correct procedure).

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.