In September 2021, the government ran a consultation containing proposals for reforming the Flexible Working Regulations 2014. On 5 December 2022, the response to that consultation was published: it contained several suggestions as to how an employer should treat an employee’s flexible working request.
What is flexible working?
The term ‘flexible working’ covers a number of ways in which an employer can modify an employee’s role or hours to be more accommodating to that employee’s needs. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Job sharing – where two or more people do one job but divide the hours between themselves.
- Working from home – allowing an employee to do some or all of their work from home or another place that is not the normal place of work.
- Part-time – not working full-time hours, either as a reduction of hours each day or as a reduction in the number of days worked per week.
- Compressed hours – working full-time hours over a reduced number of days.
- Flexitime – giving the employee the choice to start and finish work early or late.
The government’s response
The main proposed changes following the consultation are as follows:
- The right to request flexible working, which is currently a right for employees with no fewer than 26 weeks’ continuous employment, will become a right for all employees from day one of their employment.
- An employee can make two requests for flexible working within a 12-month period, up from one request as is presently the case.
- An employer must respond to a flexible working request within two
- If the flexible working request is not possible, the employer should discuss possible alternatives before rejecting the request entirely.
- Employees will no longer have to explain how the requested flexible working will affect the employer.
- The government has proposed a new law which would allow low-paid employees to take on a second job if needed.
Acas guidance on flexible working requests
Acas provides detailed guidance on how employers should deal with flexible working requests. Employers should ask for the flexible working request to be made in writing and, when it is presented, they should consider it fairly before making any decisions.
There should be an open dialogue with the employee so they understand the process in place and how their request is being discussed or decided. If the specific request is being rejected, which can only be done if there is a valid business reason, the employer should consider alternatives. A time extension to the three months’ (soon to be two months’) time limit to make a decision is only acceptable if both employer and employee agrees.
It is important to note that if there is an amendment to the employee’s hours or role, their employment contract may need to be changed to reflect this.
When will the proposals come into effect?
The government has acknowledged that primary legislation is needed to enforce the proposals, but we do not yet know what that legislation will look like or when it will be implemented.
The government has, however, said that it will support the existing flexible working Private Members’ Bill. This means we can anticipate that the changes to the number of requests per year and the time limit on an employer’s response to come into force in the near future.