On 30 June 2021 the Flexible Working Bill was introduced to parliament which would give all workers a legal right to flexible working from day one of employment, and would require employers to include in job advertisements what flexibility is available, as well as to offer flexible working arrangements in employment contracts. According to Sky News an announcement is expected imminently setting out the government’s proposal in respect of an immediate right to request flexible working.
Currently, the right to request flexible working under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) is limited to those who are employees (as opposed to workers) and who have been continuously employed for 26 weeks at the date the request is made. Some employers may have flexible working policies that are more favourable than this.
If the Flexible Working Bill becomes law, it will mean that all workers can make a flexible working request as soon as they start employment and will place an obligation on employers to address flexible working in job advertisements and contracts of employment.
Our Schools HR is not surprised at this change and considers that flexible working will be a recurring theme this academic year, possibly even beyond that, not only because of the Bill but also as a consequence of Covid-19 and businesses embracing the new ‘hybrid’ model of working. What will be particularly difficult for schools, academies and dioceses is that a ‘hybrid’ model in a school setting may not be workable. Whilst staff could work from home during school closure, this is not operationally viable when school is open and at full capacity.
We expect that there is a fine balance to be struck between the operational needs of the schools and complying with legal obligations in respect of flexible working. We therefore recommend forward planning, ensuring your flexible working policies and procedures are fit for purpose and legally compliant, and adopting a consistent approach (insofar as is reasonable having regard to business need) to flexible working requests.