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The Government has issued its response to last year’s consultation on its proposals to extend the statutory right of employees to request flexible working, ‘Making Flexible Working the Default’.

Flexible working is a wide-ranging concept and doesn’t just comprise of a combination of working from home and in the office, it can also mean employees are able to request job-sharing, flexitime, and working compressed, annualised, or staggered hours.

The consultation proposals included:

  • Making the right to request flexible working a ‘day one’ right;
  • Changes to the eight business reasons for refusing a request; and
  • A requirement for employers to consider alternative working arrangements when refusing a request.

The key takeaways from the Government’s response are summarised below.

1. The Government will make the right to request flexible working apply from the first day of employment.

The response recognised that there was a general perception that flexible working had to be earned, hence the 26-week qualifying period, and that there is no “one size fits all” approach to working arrangements. The outcome was that the legislation should remain a right to request, not a right to have flexible working granted, which is a clear step back from the Government’s original aim of making flexible working the default.

2. The Government will require employers to explore alternatives with employees before rejecting their flexible working request.

The Government’s response concluded that consultations should take place between employer and employee as to what might be a workable solution rather than an outright rejection of unworkable requests.

3. The Government will allow employees to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period and require employers to respond to requests within two months.

Currently, employees can make one flexible working request every 12 months, and the employer has three months to consider the request. The Government’s consultation sought views on whether to allow a greater number of requests within a 12-month period and to reduce the period in which employers must respond to a request.

While the response acknowledged concerns about the prospect of a greater burden on the administration associated with dealing with flexible working requests, it was decided that the changes would support the overall objective of making flexible working more accessible for individuals to apply for.

4. The Government will remove the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by the employer.

During the consultation, it was suggested that the existing requirement for an employee to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by their employer was onerous. The response suggested that a better approach would be for the employer and employee to consult to understand the potential impact of their flexible working request together.

The response also confirmed that the Government will develop guidance on how to deal with temporary requests for flexible working.

What are the next steps?

It is likely that these changes will be introduced during the course of 2023.

Assuming the Bill progresses based on the current draft, employers should start preparing to review and update their policies and procedures, including implementing management training on dealing with flexible working requests, to accommodate the expected changes.

Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting one of our legal experts.


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