In an open consultation led by The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, flexible working regulations are being reconsidered, with new proposals leading to potential changes in the way that employers manage requests.

Whether businesses like it or not, the lasting impact of Covid-19 on working arrangements cannot be ignored, with home and hybrid working becoming the adopted norm for many. The popularity of these approaches is largely a result of the benefits they bring for employees, although the view of the employer continues to be mixed.

Both sides of the coin will be fully assessed before the consultation closes on 1 December 2021, as the government looks to continue its effort to encourage and support flexible working.

What are the existing regulations?

Flexible working regulations initially emerged in 2003 to accommodate parents and employees with caring responsibilities. By giving those affected a statutory right to request flexible work, employers were required to consider alterations to location and hours of work.

This was followed by further developments in 2014, which saw the right to request flexible work extended to any employee who meets the minimum service criteria of 26 weeks.

When considering the changes enforced by Covid in the past 18 months, now appears to be the right time for these regulations to be updated.

What changes are being proposed?

To help make flexible working more accessible to employees, the following changes are being proposed:

  • Employees to have right to request flexible working after one day of service (rather than 26 weeks)
  • Employers to be required to explain reasons for declining flexible working requests and suggest alternative arrangements
  • Maximum response time for requests to be reduced (currently three months)

Although these changes may not be effective until after the consultation closes, if at all, we recommend that businesses begin preparing for how they could be impacted.

How will this impact employers?

As the most notable change proposed by the government, removing the 26-week service criteria is likely to have a knock-on effect when it comes to recruitment and selection.

If introduced, this change would force employers to consider whether jobs can be done flexibly much earlier in the process, and potentially begin making arrangements for this to happen. This should also be reflected in job descriptions and adverts to avoid potential issues later down the line.

Additionally, there should be some advanced consideration towards the potential requirement to explain rejected requests and suggest alternative arrangements.

While the reasons for making a rejection could change after the consultation, businesses are likely to continue receiving a significant number of requests, especially considering the shift in preferences amongst employees and candidates.

Therefore, extra care should be taken to ensure that requests are being dealt with fairly. If not, it may become increasingly difficult to attract and retain employees, which is of course integral to the performance of any business.

Having open discussions with employees, where business needs are outlined, can be helpful when it comes to the topic of flexible working. This can be useful for maintaining morale and engagement when decisions don’t go the employee’s way, however, it is imperative that evidence is used to support this.

Overall, it is clear to see how these proposals hope to encourage better communication between employers and their employees. Those that embrace this are likely to see the greatest results, as flexible working looks set to remain high-placed on the employment agenda.

AHR Consultants can help

As outlined above, all proposals discussed in this article are at consultation stage and are yet to become effective, if at all. Despite this, managing flexible workers is a live issue which many employers are currently facing, both when dealing with existing employees or attracting new candidates.

Our HR and employment law team have provided flexible working support throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with this continuing beyond the conclusion of the government’s consultation. This includes reactive support to help manage any incoming requests, as well as the proactive introduction of company policies and procedures for flexible working.

If you would like to receive tailored guidance on flexible working, or any other employment issue, call us today on 0345 076 2288 or send us an email.