Last reviewed 25 August 2021

Opeyemi Ogundeji, researcher and employment law writer at Croner-i, explores the new Private Member’s Bill on flexible working, what it would mean for businesses, and more.

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

This Bill hopes to give all workers the opportunity to work flexibly from day one of their employment, except in exceptional circumstances. This is because, the Labour MP has said, flexible working arrangements should be a “right for all” and not “a perk for the few”.

Noting that childcaring responsibilities usually fall on women, the Labour MP has also said that “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.”

Business impact

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.

It should be noted that, while this Bill has been backed by not just other Labour MPs but also MPs from the Conservative, Liberal Democrats, Green, SNP, and DUP parties, a Private Member’s Bill does not have initial backing from the current Government and will not be implemented unless this backing is given.

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

  • date the request

  • 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 if it is 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 and for both parties to 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.

The flexible working craze

Not every employer will be in a position to offer flexible working. This could be for a number of reasons but, whatever the reason, its increasing popularity could mean that employers are persuaded to consider it.

Homeworking and hybrid working have been the most popular flexible working options since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It appears that the temporary shift that many businesses were forced to make has made a lasting impression on employees — some of whom now don’t want to look back.

However, many businesses have argued that a long-term roll-out of homeworking or flexible working would be detrimental for their business. To meet growing demand for more flexibility, why not consider other working arrangements that may be more beneficial to both employee and business? These could include the following:

  • staggering start and finish times — letting staff come in later or finish earlier

  • implementing “flexi-time”, where staff are able to work less hours one day and make it up at a later date

  • increased annual leave options, such as the option to buy or sell leave

  • job sharing or part-time working options.

Employers should be aware that changes of this nature would result in a change to employment terms and conditions, meaning employers should seek staff agreement first.

Outside of flexible working, there are other areas that employers may consider in order to encourage continued staff retention:

  • implementing pay rises if possible as a thank you for their hard work during the pandemic

  • considering providing bonuses

  • taking steps to offer increased training opportunities

  • offering other workplace perks, such as vouchers, dress-down days and socials.

Next steps

There are no specific preparations that need to be made with regards to the Private Member’s Bill until the Government gives their response on the matter. However, to improve morale and staff satisfaction at work, it is a good idea to consider flexible working options where possible.

It is currently law that employers must consider flexible working requests from eligible employees but implementing a flexible working policy will help towards managing this.