At Community we’ve long been campaigning on the benefits of flexible working. Back in 2021 the government consulted on making flexible working a day 1 right. We responded to that consultation, emphasising the benefits that flexible working has for our members.
We’re pleased that the government has announced that it will change the law so that workers can ask for the right to flexible working from the start of their employment.
What does this mean for me?
Previously, you needed to have worked at a workplace for 26 weeks before you could make a formal request for flexible working. Soon, you will be able to make a request from your first day at work.
The rules will also change to permit two requests in any 12-month period, and your employer will be required to respond within a two-month timeframe as standard.
The Government intends to remove the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by the employer. This means you’ll no longer have to set out the business case for the impact of your flexible working request. This could make it easier for you to request flexible working if you’re someone who might struggle with presenting your application.
The government will also require employers to consult with employees to explore available options before rejecting a flexible working request.
Finally, the government is also going to produce guidance on how to make temporary requests for flexible working.
When and where will the changes apply?
Some of these changes require primary legislation, and others require secondary legislation, both of which require time in parliament. The Government is supporting Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi’s Private Members bill, which will bring many of these changes into force. The bill is currently in committee stage. These changes apply to England, Wales, and Scotland, but employment law is devolved in Northern Ireland, so these changes won’t apply there.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working means a change to terms and conditions relating to the hours you work, the times you work, or where you work.
Anyone can make a flexible working request. It’s often best to start informally and have a discussion with your manager, before making a formal request.
What are the benefits of flexible working?
Flexible working can help people manage a variety of situations such as
- Childcare responsibilities
- Caring responsibilities
- Recover from disease
- Medical appointments
- Managing the symptoms of menopause
- Supporting their lifestyle
- Approaching retirement
Different kinds of flexible working may help in different situations. For example, a survey commissioned by Community found that almost 60% of women who had been working from home during the pandemic said that the ability to work from home helped them to manage their menopause symptoms.
What do we want to see happening next?
We think the government should go further.
We felt the government’s proposals should have included making flexible working available at job application stage. Requiring employers to include the available flexible working options in their adverts would be helpful to ensure that people have the choice to take up roles where flexible working is feasible.
The “business reasons” for which employers reject a flexible working request should be replaced with “an objective justification”, mirroring the language in the Equality Act. This is because it is too easy for employers to turn down reasonable requests— TUC research from 2019 shows that 30% of flexible working request are denied.
We also think that flexible working shouldn’t be used instead of reasonable adjustments. We have heard of employers seeking to use flexible working request legislation to accommodate requests of some disabled workers to work from home. This should be addressed through the framework of reasonable adjustments. You can read our guidance on reasonable adjustments here.
These are all still issues that the Government must resolve.