Reforming flexible working rights in the UK
This page follows the development of the UK Government’s reform on flexible working rights, which began with the publication of their consultation titled “Making flexible working the default” in September 2021. It also explains BDF’s views on the consultation outcome and next steps for the Government, employers, and us here at BDF.
Our research and consultation response in 2021
To inform our consultation response, we spoke to employers and employees within our membership. The research we carried out with disabled employees and carers to inform this response revealed a common and recurring theme: flexible working is currently not flexible enough – and employers agreed. Together we developed a response that proposed the following:
- Anyone should be able to discuss flexible working arrangements with an employer at any stage of their employment contract or when applying for a job. Having to wait until an employee has had 26 weeks’ service with an employer is preventing people from changing jobs or from entering the job market at all.
- We want employees to be able to request to work flexibly if and whenever their life situation changes. Currently, employees can only request to work flexibly once during a twelve-month period.
- We also wanted to see the length of time in which an employer must respond to an employee’s request shortened. Instead of the employer having three months to respond, they should respond as soon as possible.
Ultimately, we have proposed that the process and criteria for deciding if a flexible working request can be accepted should be brought in line with the processes for deciding what is reasonable (in the context of reasonable workplace adjustments in the Equality Act 2010). This would mean employees would be able to request to work differently at any time. If an employer cannot accept an initial request, they must evidence and explain to the employee why this is the case and collaborate with the employee to provide a relevant alternative that removes the challenge or need for the original request.
In our consultation response, you will see the voices and experiences of disabled employees, as well as how supportive employers in our membership have been to ensure work keeps working for as many people as possible. Two key quotes from the research for our consultation response are as follows:
- From an employee with a disability: “I have excelled during the last two years while having different hours and working from home”.
- From an employer: “Some individuals will have reasons for the request from Day One. Not all life changes happen while you are in permanent employment. An individual should not have to worry about changing jobs or companies because they will have to lose their flexible working”.
To read more, you can download our full response or a summary at the right side of this page (both Word documents).
The Government’s response, December 2022
On 5 December 2022, the Government published its response to this consultation (which can also be download to the right side of this page). They have confirmed they will do the following:
- Remove the 26-week qualifying period before employees can request flexible working, making it a day-one right;
- Require employers to consult with their employees to explore the available options before rejecting a flexible working request;
- Allow employees to make 2 flexible working requests in any 12-month period;
- Require employers to respond to requests within 2 months, instead of 3;
- Remove the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by their employer.
You can read our views on these changes at the following link:
In early 2023, we will be writing to our Members and Partners to forward our work on flexible working, including having a more inclusive and less administrative-based approach to making work easier for everyone.
What should employers do now?
The above changes will be implemented by introducing guidance and new legislation, predominantly the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill. This Bill is currently being debated in Parliament, so these changes have therefore not yet become law.
However, as employers revise their own workforce policies, we are encouraging them to consider the following five key ‘practice points’ to help them be as ready as possible for when the changes become mandatory:
- Ensure all employees know how to make a flexible working request, and that all managers know how and when to respond.
- Be clear that flexible working as a reasonable adjustment is different to this statutory flexible working request process. Therefore, if employees are requesting to work flexibly because of a disability, managers should be using the organisation’s internal workplace adjustments procedure, not following this statutory request route.
- Ensure conversations about requests are collaborative and constructive. This means managers ensuring a request is listened to and the reasons for the request are understood; and it also means the employee working with the employer to discuss an alternative solution if the original requested cannot be agreed to. It also means ensuring decisions are communicated and confirmed in writing, for the employee and employer’s reference.
- Regardless of the statutory response time for an employer to respond to a flexible working request, it is good practice to respond to employees’ request as soon as possible. This means employees are not waiting for months and potentially struggling to work while waiting for a decision. If you receive a request act on it as soon as you can.
- Ensure the overall process is a supportive and stress-free one – for managers as well as employees. This includes removing the burden of the employee needing to ‘prove’ why their request would work. Instead, identify how you the process can be made less ‘transactional’ and more collaborative.
Get in touch
If you have any questions about this work or, if you are a Member or Partner of BDF and you want to get involved, please get in touch with us at email@example.com
For advice on flexible working, BDF Members and Partners can contact our Advice Service at firstname.lastname@example.org
Making flexible working the default - full response
Business Disability Forum's consultation responseDownload Resource
Making flexible working the default - summary of responseDownload Resource
Government's consultation response
The Government's response to the 'Makign flexible working the default' consultation - December 2022Download Resource