Flexible working rights set for boost under UK government proposals

UK employment updates

British workers will be able to request flexible hours from their first day in a job, instead of after six months, under new proposals to be set out by the UK government this week.

The Conservative party promised in its 2019 general election manifesto to “encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to”.

On Thursday the business department, BEIS, will publish its consultation document outlining how the overhaul would operate in practice, addressing various types of arrangements, including part-time work, working from home and job shares.

The recommendations include that businesses must respond more quickly to requests from employees for flexible hours. At present, employers are required to address such demands within three months of the application being made.

But unions have warned that the proposals do not go far enough because they only give people the right to ask for flexible working, meaning employers can still refuse it in certain circumstances.

A survey from the Trades Union Congress in 2019 found that a third of requests for flexible working were turned down by UK bosses.

Separate research from the TUC found that the proportion of people working flexibly rose only from 26 to 30 per cent between 2013 and 2020.

However, since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 vast numbers of white-collar workers have been compelled to work from home during Britain’s three national lockdowns.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said her party would give all employees the right to flexible working, rather than the right to request it, from day one.

“The ‘new normal’ after this pandemic must mean a new deal for all working people based on flexibility, security and strengthened rights at work,” she said.

In August, the government dropped its guidance telling people to work from home where possible to prevent the spread of coronavirus, replacing it with a recommendation for a gradual return to the workplace.

In the aftermath of the pandemic many employers have adopted a more open approach to flexible working.

Earlier this year, Tui, Britain’s largest travel company, told its workers they will only need to be in the office for one day a month. KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting groups, has offered a “four-day fortnight” hybrid working plan for its staff.

Meanwhile, Lloyds Banking Group has devised a strategy around home, hub or hybrid working as the new “categories of work style” that on offer to employees.

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