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Employment

Plans to ‘modernise’ working life will allow employees to request flexibility from day one

Government proposals will allow staff to ask for flexible working as soon as they start a new job – but employers can still say no.

Employees will be able to request flexible working arrangements from their first day in a job under new government proposals – but bosses can still say no.

The government claims the plans will modernise the way Britons work by allowing employees to balance their work and home life. Flexible working arrangements include working from home, job sharing, part time, compressed or staggered hours and flexitime.

Under existing legislation, employees who have been in their role for 26 weeks have a right to request flexible working, however that request can be rejected for reasons ranging from projected negative impact on the quality of work or employee performance.

Labour has slammed the proposals, saying they don’t go far enough. The party has accused the Tories of breaking a manifesto pledge to make flexible working the default.

Announcing a consultation on the plans, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “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.” 

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Encouraging flexible or hybrid working could help to give people who are under-represented in Britain’s workforce, such as new parents or disabled people, access to more opportunities.

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Morgan Bestwick, policy and partnerships officer for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation labelled the move as “encouraging”, suggesting that the government had listened to the many workers who have been calling for change.

However, she argued that flexible working should be normalised “from the factory floor to the boardroom, with opportunities for progression available to all, and where a right to request becomes a true right available to all workers”.    

“To make this a reality, government should change the law so that workers have a day one right to flexible working, not just the right to request,“ he continued.

Employers will not be obligated to accept requests for working adjustments and will be able to reject them if they “have sound business reasons to do so”.

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If an employer refuses to accommodate the flexible working request, “they would need to think about what alternatives they could offer… if they couldn’t change their employee’s hours on all working days, they could consider making the change for certain days instead,” according to a statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work, Angela Rayner, said: “Once again the Conservatives have sold out working people. Labour will give workers the right to flexible working – not just the right to request it.” 

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With one in three flexible working requests turned down, according to research conducted by the TUC before the pandemic, the union says that the proposals don’t go far enough in compelling employers to accommodate employee needs.  

“These proposals won’t be the game changer ministers claim, as employers can still turn down any or all requests for flexible working,” said TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady. 

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