The much-awaited response to the Government’s consultation on flexible working, titled ‘Making Flexible Working the Default’, has been published.
We have summarised below the key changes set out in the Government’s response:
- The right to request flexible working is to apply from the first day of employment. Currently, an employee is required to have 26 weeks of service before they are eligible to make a flexible working request. The response notes that the current requirement has led to a perception that flexible working is something which has to be “earned” rather than it being the norm.
- When considering a request, employers will need to demonstrate that they have considered if there are alternative forms of flexible working available. The aim of this is to encourage wider consideration of what might be workable and to facilitate a more open and constructive dialogue.
- Employees are to be permitted to make two flexible working requests within a 12 month period, to further the aim of normalising flexible working. Currently, employees are only permitted to make one request in this time. Furthermore, employers will be obliged to respond to any such requests within two months, whereas the current timeline for responding is three months.
- The flexible working request procedure is to be simplified so employees are no longer required to address the impact the proposed change(s) might have upon the employer. Employers are to actively engage with employees to jointly understand the request, which is a noticeable shift in responsibility.
When will these changes come into force?
While no particular timeframe is proposed, further legislation is required to remove the 26 week qualifying period currently in place. As such, it is likely to be some time before these changes are implemented.
What are the implications of these changes?
While these changes do advance flexible working rights and should create a more diverse workforce, it is important to flag that there is no default right to work flexibly; it is a right to request to work flexibly. Employers remain entitled to refuse an employer’s request on the basis of one or more of the eight statutory grounds (which are unchanged).
In due course, employers will need to revisit their flexible working policies to ensure their procedures are updated accordingly. Additionally, it would be advisable to offer further training to managers and anyone involved in the recruitment process, so that they too are aware of the implications of the forthcoming changes.
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