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Staff To Gain Right To Request Flexible Working From First Day

September 22, 2021

The government is proposing to give all employees the right to request flexible working when they start new jobs, the BBC understands.

A consultation is to be launched on the proposals this week.

The plan would allow all UK employees to request a flexible working arrangement from their first day at a new employer.

At the moment, workers have to wait until they have been in their role for six months.

The proposals would also see bosses have to respond to requests for flexible working more quickly than the current maximum of three months. It would also force firms to explain why any requests were refused.

It is understood that the consultation document will be published on Thursday by the Department for Business.

It started examining a range of flexible working options in 2019, including working different or condensed hours, job sharing and remote working.

Jane Hatton, chief executive of the job search website Evenbreak, a social enterprise run by disabled people, said she welcomed the news.

“For employers, offering flexible working means they can access so much more talent and that really benefits the business as well.

“Before the pandemic there was a huge resistance for people working from home but the reality is they are just as productive if not more so – it’s just a pity it took a global pandemic for employers to trust their employees.”

Executive coach and disability equality trainer Mary Doyle said the right to request flexibility would help more employees.

Previously she worked for 28 years in technology and working from home was not an option.

Before the pandemic, she said that when it became more acceptable to work from home at a corporate level it still wasn’t the preferred option.

“For it to be right rather than a privilege would have made a huge difference to me earlier in my career,” she said.

‘Listening to employees is key’

Stephen Warnham, head of content at UK jobs site, said the move pointed to “a growth in a hybrid way of working”, where people are “trusted to work in the way that best gets the job done”.

“If you consider the jobs market as it stands with all its vacancies, businesses listening to the needs and wants of employees is key.”

As part of a survey of 200,000 staff worldwide, published in March this year, Totaljobs found that nine in 10 employees wanted partial flexibility to choose where they work.

“From a legislative perspective this is long overdue as a third of employers we speak to are already doing this anyway, so it is a really critical change,” said Mr Warnham.

Not a ‘game changer’

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that flexible working “should be a right” to everyone from their first day in the job.

“But these proposals won’t be the game changer ministers claim, as employers can still turn down any or all requests for flexible working,” she continued.

“The government should change the law so that workers have the legal right to flexible work from day one in the job – not just the right to ask for it.”

And Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work, said: “Labour will give workers the right to flexible working – not just the right to request it – and give all workers full rights from day one on the job.”

Gill McAteer, head of employment law at Citation, said that if an employee contract said the place of work was the office, employees have no legal right to work remotely.

“Until this becomes a reality, employees will have to accept their employer’s back to work plan or face challenging it through the existing flexible working process,” she said.

However, Ms McAteer said that while it was “relatively easy” for employers to refuse a work from home request before the pandemic, now it is “more challenging” as employees can demonstrate they have “effectively” carried out their role from home during the crisis.

The potential repercussions of employers getting this wrong can be costly, Ms McAteer explained, referring to a recent tribunal decision to award £185,000 in damages to an estate agent who was denied a flexible working request to leave work earlier to collect her daughter from nursery.

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