New consultation opens up discussion around flexible working practices.
A consultation has begun on one of the government’s leading 2019 manifesto promises – that every employee in Great Britain has the right to request a flexible working pattern no matter how long they’ve been in their job.
The government says this will allow around 2.2 million more people the ability to ask for flexibility.
“It was once consider a ‘nice to have’, but by making requests a day one right, we’re making flexible working part of the DNA of businesses across the country,” said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
Still, while any movement at all on this issue is welcome amongst those pushing for better hybrid working practices, plans suggest requests won’t always have to be granted by employers and won’t facilitate what most campaigners want, which is a genuine negotiation with both parties holding equal power, as well as normalising flexible working so all the onus is not on the applicant. Also that people can move into new flexible roles more easily instead of being stuck in the flexible role they might have.
The government suggests employers will need to consider whether flexible working is something they can offer and put in their job advertisement and that companies will be able to reject requests if there are ‘sound business reasons’, as well as respecting freedom of contracts and not prescribing specific arrangements in legislation.
Observers will have to wait and see how these caveats manifest, but firms who have already adopted flexible working patterns received news of the consultation positively.
“Giving workers more choice about how they work will not only inspire and motivate staff, it will also help businesses attract and retain the best talent to grow their companies,” said James Timpson, chief exec of Timpson Group.
Meanwhile, Zurich UK CEO Tim Bailey said, “By offering roles that fit flexibly around family life, employers open the doors to a much wider pool of untapped talent. This will also help people progress into higher paid jobs whilst fitting other commitments around their careers. Workers want a new deal and there’s a danger that businesses that don’t get on board, won’t be able to compete for the best candidates.”
Under existing legislation, only workers with 26 weeks continuous service at an organisation have the right to request flexible working and there are a raft of reasons why a company may reject it.
“The government’s consultation on giving employees the right to request flexible working from day one of employment is a welcome move to help create more inclusive workplaces,” said Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
“Learning from the pandemic, many organisations are now open to more hybrid ways of working which give their employees greater say over where and how they work. But the reality for those whose roles can only be done at their place of work – such as restaurants, warehouses or hospitals – is that they often have very little flexibility.
“We believe a day one right to request flexible working will help broaden the accessibility of all types of flexible working, including flexibility in hours as well as location. In turn this will boost inclusion, wellbeing and performance which is beneficial to both employers and employees alike.”