On 23 September 2021, the UK Government launched a consultation on flexible working arrangements. The consultation considers reforms to the existing flexible working regulations and is seeking views on proposals to ensure that the framework supports flexible working in all its forms.
The consultation considers five areas for review:
- Making the right to request flexible working a ‘day one’ right by removing the 26-week qualifying period. The suggestion is that including the right to request as a day one right would encourage employers to consider flexible working options in the job design and recruitment process.
- Whether the eight existing business reasons for refusing a statutory request for flexible working remain valid. The current statutory framework provides specific reasons for which an employer can reject a statutory request to work flexibly. As many employers’ experience of flexible working has changed in the course of the pandemic, clarification is sought as to whether these business reasons remain valid and if not, why.
- Requiring employers to suggest alternatives if they intend to refuse a request. Under the current regulations an employer simply has to say that the request is denied and provide the relevant business reason why that is the case. While some employers already provide more information this is not always the case and the proposal is looking at whether employers providing more information would allow for more discussion and negotiation and ensure that it is a more collaborative process. However, this may impact on the time that employers have to handle a request.
- The administrative process underpinning the right to request flexible working. Currently an employee many only make one statutory request every 12 months and an employer has three months to consider whether the request can be accommodated. However, there is concern that this places barriers to accessing flexible working when an employee’s situation has changed.
- How the right to request a temporary flexible arrangement could be better utilised. Although it is possible to make a request for a defined, time limited period, this is not currently utilised effectively and the government wants to encourage employees to use this for more transitional periods in an employee’s life, for example in settling a child into school.
The consultation sets out other steps the Government intends to take to help make flexible working the default. This includes asking the ‘flexible working taskforce’ to consider how the workplace can move on and make the most of the lessons learned over the last 18 months as the economy begins to fully open up. The Government will also launch a call for evidence looking at the sorts of ‘extra’ flexibility people may need to help them live their lives in the best way they can – both at work and at home.
Although the consultation document is entitled “making flexible working the default” the proposals are limited to the right to request flexible working. The proposals do not extend to the “right to have” which would remove the ability of an employer to turn down a request.
The consultation closes on 1 December 2021.