Flexible working requests – will need to wait a little longer

Blog | Employment
Published: 18th May 2022
Area: Corporate & Commercial

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As the final restrictions lift following the pandemic and business recovers, employers were looking to the Queen’s Speech this week to see what important employment law changes were on the horizon in 2022, as part of the long awaited Employment Bill. One change expected which is very much as a result of the pandemic and employees being required to work from home, if they could, is the opportunity to request flexible working arrangements as a day one right.

Sadly, it looks like the wait for this will go on, as there was no mention of the Employment Bill in this latest Queen’s Speech. The Employment Bill has been long under discussion and one of the aims of the new Bill has been stated to give employees more confidence and negotiating power to request agile working, enabling them to perform their role flexibly from the outset, which has been proved in many cases to be entirely possible.

What is the current law?

Currently, employees must wait until they have completed 26 weeks’ service with an employer before they can make a flexible working request. If this is rejected, the employee must then wait 12 months before they can submit another formal request.

What was expected from the new bill?

The new Employment Bill intended to make this a right from day one and planned to remove the once-a-year request limit.

This doesn’t mean, however, that employees would have an automatic right to work flexibly, but it does mean they would be entitled to request to do so, immediately upon starting their new role.

Disappointingly, the Employment Bill was not included in the Queen’s Speech and so these planned changes still appear some time off.

What does this mean for employers?

When this bill does finally make its way through Parliament, if this intention to broaden access to flexible working is introduced, employers will have to tread carefully with flexible working requests, as they will face stricter requirements for rejection, and will have to propose alternative options rather than dismissing a request outright. Requests will need to be considered in full. Currently, there are eight reasons that employers can give to justify refusal, but it is anticipated that the number of valid reasons will be reduced.

Of course, employers have a business to run and it will be up to them to decide if the requested arrangements are viable. If an employer has reasonable grounds for rejection, it is possible to insist the job is performed as advertised, even when faced with an immediate request for flexible working.

And for employees?

Even with a new right under an Employment Bill (when this finally gets introduced) employees may still be nervous about setting off their employment on the wrong foot.

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