In 2014, the UK introduced a new law that gave employees the right to request flexible work. In particular, it focused on parents and carers that might need to adjust their working hours to fit around caring responsibilities. This was presented as a right that all employees can ask for, but there was always the requirement for employees to discuss any requirement with an employer – there was a need to prove that flexibility was required.
A recent parliamentary consultation has asked if this right should be extended to all employees as a default of employment regulations. What if the law supports all employees with an assumption that everyone has the right to ask for flexibility – not just those with very specific responsibilities?
This consultation has been presented as part of a package of âbuild back betterâ measures that are designed to reshape how the economy works in a post-Covid environment. However, itâs clear from the 2019 research in the appendix that most people wanted more flexibility at work even before Covid arrived.
98% of the 2019 respondents indicated that they believe companies with 250 or more employees should be mandated to provide details of their family-related leave and pay policies on their website. 98% also believed that flexible working policies should be openly published by these larger companies – not individually negotiated.
Itâs important to remember that the consultation is about introducing the right to flexibility from day one for all employees. It is not proposing an automatic adoption of flexibility for all employees. Employees would still need to ask permission, but there will no longer be the requirement of proof that the employee has a specific reason to require flexibility.
The view from the HR community is interesting. The government survey found that 68% of respondents would like to extend the right to flexible working to all employees from day one. Itâs clear that any requests would not be automatically granted as there is also support for the right to refuse flexibility if there will be extra cost (61%) or it will be difficult to reorganise other staff (70%).
Writing in âthe HRDirectorâ magazine, Emma Burrows, Partner and Head of Employment at law firm Trowers and Hamlins said: âBack in 2019, the governmentâs manifesto firmly committed to encouraging flexible working.Â Since then, the pandemic has ushered in wholesale change to working practices and itâs impossible to visualise things going back to the way they were.Â The expectations of both employees and employers have shifted and agile working has now become a vital tool in attracting and retaining the best talent.Â So, whilst it remains to be seen what the government will say in response to the consultation, it appears from our survey that employers are already a few steps ahead and changes to the statutory regime would be welcome.â
The pledge for flexibility may have originally been one of those manifesto promises that gets lets behind, but the pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the importance of work flexibility for so many people. Many people now want this in law.
Wired magazine is less hopeful. I already mentioned some of the very broad and vague reasons that will allow the rejection of a flexibility request (âit will increase our costs!â) Wired interviewed several activists who suggest that because there are so many possible reasons for rejection, itâs almost impossible to make a successful request if your manager doesnât want to allow flexible working.
Nobody wants to see the introduction of flexible working from day one if the rules are framed in a way that makes it almost impossible to ever successfully ask for flexible hours. Perhaps the cultural changes forced on most employers by the pandemic may create a more meaningful change?Â
The alternative is to find an employer that embraces flexibility for their team from day one – encouraging people to work from home. The Wired analysis focuses on the difficulties that parents have juggling childcare with work responsibilities. Take a look at our recruitment page because SensÃ©e is hiring right now and we offer flexible guaranteed hours from day one with a full employment contract. Whether the government does change the law on employment flexibility or not, there are some employers that already believe it makes sense for both the company and the employee.