Will flexible working become a day-one right for UK employees?
The Government has begun a consultation which will look at making flexible working a right for UK employees right from the beginning of their employment.
Currently, employees must have at least 26 weeks continuous employment before making a request for flexible working and this can be refused for a variety of different reasons, including extra costs to the business, quality of performance or the difficulty in reallocating work. This new consideration would look at whether these reasons remain logical or if employers should have to start providing alternatives if they wish to refuse a request.
The consultation comes after many employers have had to adapt to primarily working from home over the last 18 months as a response to COVID-19. It calls to look at these experiences and adapt in a way that provides genuine flexibility to fulfil and support employees in the ways that they need, both at home and at work.
The five main proposals that the Government has set out include:
- Removing the 26-week qualifying period
- Whether the reasons for refusal are still valid
- Requiring employers to suggest alternatives
- The administrative process to request the right of flexibility
- How the right to request temporary flexibility could be better utilised
Alongside this, the Government is intending to start another call for evidence in which to identify the types of flexibility people require, with respondents being asked to share suggestions for the issues that may be presented. Annex B of the consultation document sets out an analysis to the responses received in the 2019 consultation ‘Good Work Plan: Proposals to Support Families,’ which includes the need for clarity over flexible working, family related leave and pay policies. They have extended the deadline to 1 December 2021 in light of COVID-19 to encourage more responses which should result in a better understanding of who would be eligible to such leave, how carer’s use existing employment rights, and the benefits to both employers and employees.
The Government have also confirmed a day one right for carer’s leave which sees the introduction of one-week (five working days) unpaid leave each year for employees to manage any long-term caring duties they may have. This leave will be allowed to be taken flexibly, so employees have the option to take half days when needed as long as the leave eventually adds up to one week. However, this will only be introduced when parliamentary time allows.