Flexible working to become a day one right
The government has responded to its consultation, 'Making flexible working the default', which closed on 1 December last year.
It confirmed that it will take forward a number of the proposals and emphasised that a key principle underpinning the changes is the recognition that there is no one-size-fits all for flexible working and individual agency and choice are key. The onus is on employers and employees having constructive, open-minded conversations to find arrangements that work for all parties.
The government confirmed that flexible working will become a day one right and will be introduced via secondary legislation "when Parliamentary time allows". The eight business grounds for rejecting a flexible working request will remain as they are. There will be a new obligation on employers to consult with the employee to explore the available options before rejecting a flexible working request. This obligation will be introduced via secondary legislation.
The administrative process for making a request will be changed so that, instead of only being able to make one statutory request for flexible working in a 12-month period, an employee will be able to make two. Currently employers have three months within which to respond to the request; this will be reduced to a two-month period to make the process more streamlined. The government believes such changes support the overall policy objective of normalised flexible working.
Another change on the cards is that employees will no longer be required to set out how the employer might deal with the effects of their flexible working request. The government believes that, instead of the employee bearing the sole responsibility of setting out the business case, employers should be better at engaging with employees to jointly understand the impact of a request. The government has said that it will develop enhanced guidance to raise awareness and understanding of the framework round making requests for flexible working, and will issue a call for evidence on how informal flexibility works in practice "in due course".
All the changes, other than the introduction of a day one right to make a flexible working request, will have to be taken forward by means of primary legislation. The government has already committed to supporting a Private Member's Bill, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Bill), which is currently going through Parliament so it may not be too long before the changes come into effect.