The UK government published a consultation paper on making flexible working the default. Possible changes to the current framework include removing the service requirement for making a request, allowing more than one request a year, reducing the time for an employer to deal with a request and requiring an employer to suggest an alternative arrangement if it does not agree to an employee’s request.
The UK government’s 2019 election manifesto included a commitment to making flexible working the default. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy published a consultation paper on 23 September 2021 that gives employers a clearer idea of what that might mean in practice.
Key areas of the current right to request flexible working that may change include:
- Removing the current 26 week service requirement, giving employees a day one right to request flexible working arrangements;
- Amending the list of reasons on which employers are permitted to rely when refusing a request;
- Requiring employers to consider and potentially suggest alternative flexible working arrangements if they are unable to agree to an employee’s request;
- Reducing the three month time frame for handling a request; and
- Allowing an employee to make more than one request a year and emphasising that requests can be made for temporary flexible working arrangements as well as permanent changes.
The thrust of the changes will be to encourage employers and employees to enter into a meaningful dialogue about flexible working arrangements, recognising the business and personal benefits that such arrangements offer. However, employees will still have a right to request, not a right to demand, flexible working. Employers will continue to be able to reject a flexible working request if there are sound business reasons for doing so.
The consultation closes on 1 December 2021 so it is unlikely that any changes will come into force until mid to late 2022 at the earliest. Once the scope of the changes is clear, employers should review their flexible working policies and procedures to ensure they reflect the new rules.
In the meantime, employers may want to consider whether to be more open about discussing flexible working arrangements during the recruitment process. It may be less disruptive to have a discussion about flexible working at the outset than to appoint a candidate and face a flexible working request as soon as they join. Having said that, it appears that employers will not be required to advertise jobs as available on a flexible basis and will not have to publish their flexible working policies.