Flexible Working: New Private Member’s Bill Introduced

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13 Jul 2021

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A Labour MP has introduced a Flexible Working Bill under Parliament’s Ten Minute Rule. If passed, the bill will mean that you must offer flexible working arrangements in worker contracts. You must also “advertise the available types of such flexibility in vacancy notices.” This would be a day one right.

The aim of the bill is to give all workers the opportunity to work flexibly from day one of their employment. This is because, the Labour MP has said, flexible working arrangements should be a “right for all” and not “a perk for the few”. There will be exceptional circumstances where flexible working won’t be applicable.

The private members bill

Noting that childcaring responsibilities usually fall on women, the Labour MP said:

“Women are twice as likely to excel in the career that they’re pursuing, if they have their husbands helping them with childcare responsibility and looking after children.”

If this bill is passed, it will force employers to change their workplace practices to accommodate flexible working from day one. This is something that some employers will already be doing due to the impact of the coronavirus. However, not all employers will want to or be able to implement such a change.

This bill has been supported, not just by other Labour MPs, but also MPs from the Conservative, Liberal Democrats, Green, SNP, and DUP parties. However, a Private Member’s Bill is not government-backed and does not tend to be implemented unless the current Government gives its support.

Flexible working in its current form

Let’s look at employees’ rights when making flexible working requests and what employers need to be aware of.

People categorised as “employees” have a statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks of consecutive service. However, you may allow them to do so earlier. An employee can only make one statutory request once every 12 months.

It doesn’t matter which department the employee is in, anyone can make a request, and employers lawfully have to consider it.

There are two types of requests employees can make. These are:

  • Statutory flexible working requests: A request made under the law on flexible working
  • Non-statutory flexible working requests: One which isn’t made under the law on flexible working

Unlike statutory requests, employees can make as many non-statutory requests as they wish. The sole exception to this is if their contract states otherwise.

To make a statutory flexible working request, the employee must:

  • Make the request in writing
  • State when they made their last request (if applicable)
  • State that it is a statutory request for flexible working
  • Be dated
  • Specify the date on which the employee would like to start flexible working
  • Detail the change that is requested
  • Explain the effects that the employee thinks the requested change would have on the employer's business
  • Explain how the employee thinks any such effects might be dealt with
  • State whether the employee has made a previous application for flexible working, and if so, the date that application was made.

Employers should hold a meeting to discuss the request regardless of whether it’s a formal flexible working request or not. They should do this before making a decision. This is a chance for the employee to provide reasons for the request. Then both parties can work out how they can put the flexible working pattern in place. For example, employers can agree on a trial period to see if the arrangement could work short term.

After the meeting, employers must consider the request and give the employee a response within 3 months. Employers must have sound business reasons for refusing a request and these reasons must be reasonable.

Spotlight put on flexible working notspots

Analysis of official data by the CIPD has found the use of flexible working arrangements is unequal across the UK. This led to a warning of the risks of potentially creating a two-tier workforce.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey, the CIPD has ranked UK nations and regions from the most to the least flexible in terms of working arrangements. It has shown some areas to be “flexible working notspots”.

Workers in South East England have the best flexible working options. This is followed by the East of England. Workers in the Yorkshire and Humber region are least likely to have flexibility in their role.

Generally, regions where employees report better flexibility in hours tend to have less flexibility over where they work. The North East comes out top for flexible hours, but bottom for flexibility of location.

Regions with greater flexibility in terms of where employees work have the opposite problem. Londoners have the best flexibility around where they work. However, many don’t have flexibility in their hours or informal flexibility with their employer.

If you are reviewing flexible working options, it might be helpful to consider a wider national or regional impact. Putting things into perspective in this way can be eye-opening. It may help you decide which flexible working options to adopt to remain competitive in your region.

Outside of government guidance on homeworking due to coronavirus or the implementation of this Private Member’s Bill, you have autonomy on how you respond to flexible working requests. Your decisions, however, must be based on sound business reasons. The way you embrace flexibility in the long run is down to how you view it as a benefit to your business.

Expert support

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