UK government launches consultation on new right to ask for flexible working

A range of flexible working methods will also be considered, ministers said

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Patrick Ryan: News. Kristine Angus works at her desk with her mask on. How firms are social distancing staff who are back in the office working. Thursday, May 21st, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The UK government is pressing ahead with consulting on plans to give everyone the right to request flexible working from the first day in a job.

The move, reported earlier this week, will lead to 2.2 million more people given the right, rather than having to wait for six months under current arrangements, said ministers.

The consultation will also consider cutting the current three-month period an employer has to consider any request.

The government said a range of flexible working methods will also be looked at, including job-sharing, flexitime, compressed hours and phased retirement as well as working from home, a trend which has accelerated as a result of the pandemic.

A day-one right to a week’s unpaid leave for carers balancing a job with caring responsibilities is also being planned.

Ministers said there were some circumstances where businesses will not be able to offer flexible working, so they should still be able to reject a request if they have sound business reasons.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Empowering workers to have more say over where and when they work makes for more productive businesses and happier employees.

“It was once considered a ‘nice to have’, but by making requests a day-one right, we’re making flexible working part of the DNA of businesses across the country.

“A more engaged and productive workforce, a higher calibre of applicants and better retention rates — the business case for flexible working is compelling.”

Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss said: “As we move beyond the pandemic, we must seize the opportunity to make flexible working an option for everyone.

“No one should be held back in their career because of where they live, what house they can afford or their responsibility to family.

“I want everyone to have the same opportunities regardless of the background or location. This is the right thing to do for workers, families and our economy.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “Flexible working should be a day-one right that’s available to everyone.

“But under these plans, employers will still have free rein to turn down all or any requests for flexible working.

“Instead of tinkering around the edges, ministers should change the law so that workers have the legal right to work flexibly from the first day in the job. The right to ask nicely is no right at all.

“Not all jobs can support every kind of flexible working — but all jobs can support some kind of flexible working.

“All job adverts should make clear what kind of flexibility is available.”

“We have long been highlighting the benefits of flexible working — from unlocking career opportunities for women, carers and disabled people, to helping employers attract and retain a more diverse workforce,” said Baroness Kishwer Falkner, who heads the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

“Its benefits are clear and the pandemic has proved that different forms of flexible working can work in practice to benefit both employer and employee.

“The government’s consultation is a welcome first step towards flexible working becoming a default day-one right, where possible.”

Updated: September 22nd 2021, 9:54 PM