Flexible Working: Could It Be Made The Default?

On the 23rd September 2021, the government issued a consultation regarding “making flexible working the default”. Rather than making significant changes to the current legislation on flexible working, the consultation aims to encourage conversations around the topic to move with the shift in the way we now work since the start of the pandemic.  It is important to note that despite the proposals made in the consultation, the current legislation still stands - employees still have a right to request, and employers still have a right to reject (with a legitimate business reason).

What is the current legislation?

  • Employees must have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks before submitting a request.
  • Employees can only make a statutory request once in any 12-month period.
  • An employer’s decisions on a request for flexible working must be made within three months of the request
  • Employers can only reject a flexible working request on the grounds set out in legislation.

What proposals for changes to the current legislation did the consultation make?

  • Remove the 26-weeks restriction to submitting a request for flexible working. Changes could see allowing employees to make requests from day one of employment.
  • Allow employees to make more than one request in any 12-month period.
  • Reduce the current three-month period for employers to consider a request for flexible working.
  • Review the current grounds to reject flexible working request set out in legislation and consider making it a requirement for employers to show that they have considered all possible alternatives to allow an employee more flexibility in their working pattern.

The consultation encourages those who have a voice within the Flexible Working Taskforce body to develop the necessary advice to support the new way in which we work to help create a more flexible working friendly culture. Though no changes have officially been made to legislation, it is clear that the government are aware of the cultural shift in the way we now work and wish to take the necessary steps towards making flexible working more accessible for employees.

Our tips to handling requests for flexible working:

  • Be consistent with how you handle such requests. Discrepancies between cases can run the risk of appearing discriminatory, so ensure all employees are treated fairly.
  • Explore possible alternatives that may suit your employee if flexible working is not the right choice for your business.
  • Don’t sit on requests- if able, respond in a timely manner. Employees may have a serious and legitimate reason for their request to flexible working and they might need your support.

Will your business be more open with flexible working conversations since the shift in the way we work? Will you welcome potential changes to the current legislation?

If you need help with flexible working requests, or any other HR related issue, contact us today at [email protected]