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The Government consultation on flexible working

What could the Government's consultation on flexible working mean for employers? Zahra Gulamhusein explains.

With the Government announcing a new consultation into flexible working practices, employers may need to adapt their position towards accommodating their employees' needs.

But what might the potential changes to working practices mean for employers and how can you prepare for any reform?

Making flexible working the default

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on working practices and many businesses have had to adapt to this. There has been a substantial rise in home working with many employees wanting to continue working under this practice moving forward. Taking this into account, on 23 September 2021, the Government published a consultation entitled, Making flexible working the default.

The suggested prroposals

While there is no plan to bring in an automatic right for employees to work flexibly, the consultation does include proposals which intend to change the approach to flexible working. The suggested proposals include:

  • making the right to request flexible working a 'day one' right
  • making changes, if necessary, to the reasons for refusing a request to work flexibly
  • requiring employers to suggest alternatives to the arrangement suggested by the employee
  • changing the administrative process underpinning the right to request flexible working
  • raising awareness of the existing right of employees to request a temporary flexible working arrangement

How will this impact employers?

The key change employers will need to be aware of is the removal of the requirement that employees must have 26 weeks' service before they can make a request for flexible working.

Instead, the consultation proposes that the right to request flexible working should be a 'day one' right, ie the right will be available to employees as soon as their employment begins. If this is implemented, then this is likely to have an impact on the recruitment process.

Moving forward, when employers are looking to recruit, they will need to consider when drafting any job description or early on in the recruitment process whether, or how, the job can be done flexibly as the right to request flexible working will be available to all employees.

It is unlikely that the reasons for refusing a request for flexible working will change however, if a request for flexible working is refused then employers will need to consider alternative options for the employee which are suitable for their individual circumstances.

In addition, there could also be changes to the administrative process in responding to a request. The consultation is considering whether to give employees the opportunity to make more than one request each year while also reducing the current three month limit for employers to respond to any request.

While there is no intention to introduce a right for employees to work flexibly, the suggested proposals would encourage a new approach to flexible working practices and how employers should respond to them. It is clear from the consultation that the Government want to encourage employers to be more open to flexible working and being able to support their employees' specific needs.

The proposals will however encourage both parties to communicate with each other and this in turn should improve the employee and employer relationship. By cooperating with each other and having open discussions on the business needs of the company and the employee's position, the parties should be able to find the best working practice for that employee while also minimising the risk of any disputes arising.

Zahra Gulamhusein is a solicitor in the employment team at VWV.


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