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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Employment Law / 340: Government launches consultation on proposed flexible working reforms

The government has published a consultation seeking views on reforms to the right to request flexible working (Making flexible working the default). Responses must be submitted by 1 December 2021. The proposals reflect changes in working practices brought about by the pandemic, which has led to greater recognition of the need to balance work with other commitments such as caring for children or sick relatives.

Although there will be no automatic right for employees to work flexibly, some of the suggested measures broaden the scope of the current rights under the Flexible Working Regulations 2014. For example, at present, employees are required to first meet the 26-week qualifying period before requesting flexible working arrangements. The government’s proposals include amending this to become a day one right for all employees.

A Flexible Working Taskforce will consider the practical and legal issues associated with a return to the workplace and help employers support flexible working by providing broader advice on best practice and organisational culture.

The consultation uses a very broad definition of flexible working including, for example, job sharing, home working, part-time working, flexible hours, staggered hours, and phased retirement. Key proposals in the consultation include:

  • making the right to request flexible working a day one right. This would encourage employers to consider flexible working early in the job design or recruitment process. The right will not be extended to contractors, consultants or agency workers;
  • making changes to the eight business reasons for refusing a request to work flexibly, if consultation responses provide evidence that they are no longer reasonable. At present, the government does not see a need for a fundamental change to this list of reasons;
  • requiring employers to show that they have considered alternative working arrangements when rejecting a flexible working request, in order to encourage a compromise such as a temporary change;
  • allowing employees to make more than one statutory request to work flexibly each year, reflecting the fact that personal circumstances can change quickly;
  • raising awareness of the existing right to request a temporary flexible working arrangement, which the government believes is under-utilised. Views are also sought on how to encourage employees to request temporary contractual changes, to reflect changing periods in people’s working lives; and
  • the consultation also seeks views on whether the current three-month deadline for responding to flexible working requests is still appropriate.

In its additional actions under the consultation, the government has confirmed that it will not proceed with its 2019 proposal to require large employers to publish their flexible working practices.

In summary, the consultation states that the government is keen to encourage a cultural change, aiming for genuine two-sided flexibility by focusing more on what may be possible, rather than on what is not possible. Critically, the proposals are built around working arrangements being decided through open-minded discussion between employees and employers. The consultation seeks views from both individuals and businesses, and anyone can submit a response online here or by email to labourmarketparticipation@beis.gov.uk.

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