The Government has responded to last year’s consultation about widening the scope of flexible working rights. As it points out, it is a right to request, not a right to “have”. However, the changes it plans, if adopted, are likely to result in a considerable expansion of the number of people able to work flexibly.
The key changes proposed are as follows:
- The right to request will become a day one right for employees, rather than limited to those with at least 26 weeks’ service
- Employees will be able to make up to two requests a year (up from a single annual request)
- The maximum response time will be cut from three to two months
- Employers will have to consult with the employee before refusing any request
- The requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by the employer will be removed
However, there are no plans to change the reasons employers can cite to justify refusing a request.
It is unclear when these changes will become law. The qualifying period can be removed by secondary legislation, but primary legislation will be required for the other changes. Whether by luck or judgment, a Private Member’s Bill which would implement the other changes is currently before Parliament. It will now receive Government backing.
The consultation response states that an estimated additional 2.2 million employees will be eligible to request flexible working if the proposals become law. Perhaps even more critically, making it a day one right means that employers will have an added incentive to think about how they design jobs at the recruitment stage. The Government hopes that this will be help attract staff back into the workplace who are not currently economically active, a particularly important consideration in a tight labour market.
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