Employees will now be able to request flexible working from day one of their employment

If you came along to our Autumn employment law update, you’ll recall that we highlighted this as “one to watch” for upcoming legislation. This is due to new government plans to make flexible working the default, as the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and MP Kevin Hollinrake have announced. The government’s response to this recent consultation confirms their intention to introduce changes to the right to request flexible working legislation.

This right currently supports all employees with 26 weeks continuous service to make applications to change their work location, working hours and/or working pattern. Flexible working can mean a combination of working from home and in the office as well as making use of job-sharing, flexitime and working compressed, annualised or staggered hours.

The aim of the change is to give employees greater access to flexibility over where, when and how they work in the hope that this leads to increased productivity and enables employees to balance their work and home life, especially those who have responsibilities such as caring for children or vulnerable people.

The response states that the government will take forward the following measures:

  • make the right to request flexible working a day one right
  • introduce a new requirement for employees to consult with the employee when they intend to reject their flexible working request
  • allow two statutory requests in any 12-month period (rather than the current one)
  • require a decision period of two months in respect of a statutory flexible working request (rather than the current three)
  • remove the existing requirement that the employee must explain what effect, if any, the change applied for would have on the employer and how that effect might be dealt with.

The proposed changes to the right to request flexible working received broad support across the range of respondents, including individuals, businesses, charities and trade unions, the BEIS announcement said.

The government recognised that there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to work arrangements and has been clear that the legislation should remain a ‘right to request’, not a ‘right to have’. “The priority is to set the right conditions to allow employees and employers to explore the available options in their particular context,” the government said.

If an employer cannot accommodate a request to work flexibly, they will be required to discuss alternative options before they can reject the request under the new legislation. For example, if it is not possible to change an employee’s working hours on all days, they could consider making the change for certain days instead.

The next stage is for draft legislation to be prepared and approved, so there is still a way to go, but there is potential for this to come into force in April 2023. We will keep an eye on it and update you on any key developments in our Spring update.