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Flexible Working Consultation: Government Response

Volume 724: debated on Monday 5 December 2022

The Government have today published their response to the consultation on flexible working. This delivers on our manifesto commitment to encourage flexible working, and represents an important part of our drive to deliver growth by helping people to access and stay in work.

Flexible Working Consultation Response

In 2021, the Government consulted on changes to the right to request flexible working. This right currently supports all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service to make applications to change their work location, working hours and/or working pattern. The legislation enables employees and employers to find arrangements that work for both sides. The consultation proposals were intended to help ensure it remains fit for purpose.

The response, published today, states that the Government will legislate to:

Make the right to request flexible working a day one right. This will bring an estimated additional 2.2 million people into scope of the legislation and encourage early conversations about flexibility in the job design, recruitment and appointment phases. Supporting employees and employers to agree flexible working arrangements from day one will be an important measure in the context of a tight labour market, as it will assist those who wish to return to work but can only do so on certain patterns.

Introduce a new requirement for employers to consult with the employee when they intend to reject their flexible working request. This will enable both parties to explore the types of flexibility that may be available within the specific role before reaching a conclusion.

Allow two statutory requests in any 12-month period, rather than the current one request. This will help to ensure that individuals do not feel “trapped” in certain work arrangements they know are not sustainable for them, particularly in the event that their circumstances change within 12 months.

Require a decision period of two months in respect of a statutory flexible working request, rather than the current three. This acknowledges that long delays in responding to requests can lead to negative outcomes for both employers and employees, for example where a response is needed quickly, and the alternative is the person dropping out of work.

Remove the existing requirement that the employee must explain what effect, if any, the change applied for would have on the employer and how that effect might be dealt with. This will create a level playing field among those making requests as it will mean the legislation no longer favours those with more experience or better writing skills.

The first of these measures will be delivered through secondary legislation. The other measures require primary legislation, and the Government are pleased to support the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi).

The response also commits to non-legislative action: developing guidance to raise awareness and understanding of how to make and administer temporary requests for flexible working; and launching a call for evidence to better understand how informal flexible working operates in practice.

As a package, these steps will encourage better two-way conversations about flexible working and prompt both the employer and employee to focus on identifying an arrangement that works for them both.

The review of the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 showed that flexible working can reduce vacancy costs, increase skill retention, enhance business performance, and reduce staff absenteeism rates. In the current context of a tight labour market, flexible working can also play a key role in attracting people into work. Research conducted by the Behavioural Insights Team has shown that offering flexible working can attract up to 30% more applicants to job vacancies, and a recent Office for National Statistics publication revealed that older workers working flexibly would be more likely to say they were planning to retire later. Strengthening the legislative framework will therefore help to ensure that those who are under-represented in the workforce have access to more employment opportunities.

The Government recognise there is no one-size-fits-all approach to work arrangements since the needs of businesses and individuals will differ in each circumstance. It is therefore important that the legislation remains a right to request, not a right to have, and that employers continue to be able to refuse requests for specified business reasons.

The territorial extent of the proposals included in the Government’s consultation response extends to Great Britain—employment law is devolved to Northern Ireland.

I will place copies of the consultation response in the Libraries of the House.