Confirmation of the right to request flexible working from day one

Plans to give employees the right to request flexible working from their first day on the job have been confirmed by the government, although no date has been set for its introduction.

Following a consultation last year, the government said it would push ahead with plans to scrap the 26-week qualifying period before employees can apply for flexible working and the requirement for employees to define how their flexible work schedule would be treated by their employer.

Employees will be able to make two requests for flexible working in any 12-month period, and employers will have to respond to one request within two months, rather than three.

Organizations will be required to consult with employees to explore different options before rejecting a request for flexible working.

Small Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “Giving staff more say in how they work makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Simply put, it’s a no-brainer.

“Greater flexibility about where, when and how people work is an integral part of our plan to make the UK the best place in the world to work.”

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said: “We are delighted that the government is introducing a right from day one to request flexible working. We are calling for this change because it will help create fairer and more inclusive workplaces and improve access to flexible jobs for many people.

“Older workers, those with family responsibilities and people with health conditions are among those who will particularly benefit.

“This new right will help normalize conversations about flexibility early in the employment relationship, with significant benefits for employees in terms of well-being and work-life balance. Equally important, it will also enable organizations to attract and retain a more diverse workforce and help increase their productivity and agility.

In its response to the flexible working consultation, the government said 91% of businesses and individuals were in favor of introducing a right from day one to apply for flexible working.

“We heard that making the right to request flexible working from day one would help eliminate perceptions that flexible working is something to be ‘earned’ rather than the norm. It has been argued that this will encourage people to seek out conversations with their employers about workplace flexibility,” he said.

The CBI responded: “It will support a culture change in the workplace, moving away from the idea that the ability to request flexible working is a deserved benefit… the current qualifying period may act as a deterrent to employees who wish to change jobs but, because of personal circumstances, do not want to wait six months before formally requesting a change in their working arrangements.

It has been suggested that making flexible working more accessible would allow an additional 2.2 million people to enter the labor market, including unpaid carers.

This new right will help normalize conversations about flexibility early in the employment relationship, with significant benefits for employees in terms of well-being and work-life balance. – Peter Cheese, CIPD

However, 7% of respondents are concerned that making the right to request flexible working a right from the start will unnecessarily disrupt their organization. This included respondents in education and hospitality, where flexibility is often built into roles through alternating patterns.

Chris Sanderson, CEO of hotel recruitment app Limber, said: “When planning your staff, rotation only fits one way, and the constant demands for flexible working now underpinned by this legislation, will put even more pressure on staffing in these industries. .”

Some have said that negotiations over working arrangements should not be reopened immediately once an employee has accepted their job offer, as this could negatively impact the employer-employee relationship.

The government’s response concluded: “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to all work arrangements and it is important that legislation remains a right to ask, not a right to have. The government believes that early discussions on flexibility in the job design, recruitment and appointment phases should be encouraged – and this measure will directly support this objective.

Steve Collinson, Director of Human Resources for Zurich UK, said: “As a flexible employer for over a decade, Zurich has seen the benefits this brings on both sides. In 2019, we took it a step further and launched our part-time jobs initiative where all positions are available on a part-time or job-share basis as well as full-time. Overall applications to the company have increased by more than 50%.

“Offering flexibility removes barriers for candidates and allows us to access a whole new pool of talent. This is a priority in the current climate, but it also benefits working parents, caregivers, those with portfolio careers or other interests they wish to pursue. The workers want a new agreement and are no longer prepared to work according to outdated and rigid patterns. »

The consultation also revealed that:

  • 62% of respondents believe that the eight reasons for rejecting a request for flexible working are not valid (excess cost; inability to reorganize the work; inability to recruit someone else to do the work; negative effect on the quality negative effect on performance; negative effect on ability to meet customer demand; lack of work during proposed working hours; structural changes in business planning);
  • 94% supported the need for organizations to consult with the employee before rejecting their request, but 52% said this would place a burden on employers;
  • 74% supported reforming the number of statutory requests employees can make within a year, and the time frame for an employer to respond.

The changes will be introduced through primary and secondary legislation “when parliamentary time permits”. The government will also launch a call for evidence to better understand how informal or ad hoc flexible working works in practice.

Organizations will not be able to enforce exclusivity clauses against people who are at or below the lower income limit, allowing them to hold multiple jobs to increase their income, if they wish.

Cheney Hamilton, CEO of flexible work recruiter Find Your Flex, said: “Companies that adopt multi-portfolio workers will benefit from newfound agility and sustainability and will be well positioned to adapt quickly in the future. and all that he has in store.

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