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UK Government Want Employees to Gain Right to Ask for Flexible Working

How the UK government plan to offer employees the right to request flexible working

How the UK government plan to offer employees the right to request flexible working

Published on
September 5, 2023
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UK Government plans for Employees

The UK government has laid out plans for employees to be given the right to request flexible working from day one, regardless of time served. The government will also introduce a day one right to one-week’s unpaid leave for carers balancing a job with caring responsibilities.

The Flexible Working Consultation

In a bid to modernise working practices, around 2.2 million more UK workers will get the right to request flexible working. The consultation was first laid out in the government's 2019 manifesto, which was drafted before COVID-19 forced widespread working from home.

The consultation looks at a range of flexible working methods such as job-sharing, flexitime, compressed, annualised and staggered hours, working from home, and phased retirement.

The government says it allows employees to balance their work and home life, including helping people who are managing childcare commitments or other caring responsibilities as well as ensuring that people who are under-represented in the workforce, such as new parents or disabled people, have access to more opportunities.

The consultation will also look at cutting the current three-month period an employer has to consider any request. The government says if an employer cannot accommodate a request, they would need to think about what alternatives they could offer – for example, if they could not change their employee’s hours on all working days, they could consider making the change for certain days instead.

However, the proposals will come with limits for an employee. For circumstances where businesses will not be able to offer flexible working. The government says employer will still be able to reject a request if they have sound business reasons and the state will also respect freedom of contract rather than prescribing specific arrangements in legislation.

The plans will also consider whether employee application for flexible working will be limited to one per year as the government continues to represent balance between individual and business needs.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK Business Secretary said: “Empowering workers to have more say over where and when they work makes for more productive businesses and happier employees.

“A more engaged and productive workforce, a higher calibre of applicants and better retention rates – the business case for flexible working is compelling.”

The proposed changes would also mean that all applicants will know they can ask for flexible working before applying for a job. Equally, employers would need to consider whether they can offer flexible working before advertising roles.

The government believes the proposals will bring benefits to employers too, including:

  • Attracting top talent, as 87% of people want to work flexibly, rising to 92% for young people
  • Having a more motivated, productive workforce as 9 in 10 employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity at work, ranking it more important than financial incentives
  • A more competitive business environment

Introducing one-week’s unpaid leave for carers

The UK Government also plans to give unpaid carers who are balancing a job and caring for someone with long-term needs one week’s unpaid leave, as a day one right.

The move is set to benefit millions of people with figures suggesting that around 5 million people across the UK are providing unpaid care, with nearly half doing so while also working full-time or part-time.

They say eligibility, in terms of both who the employee is caring for and how the leave can be used, will be defined broadly. The leave will also be available to take flexibly, from half day blocks to the whole week and there must not be an extensive administrative process to determine the legitimacy of requests.

There will be a minimum notice period of twice the length of time being taken, plus one day.

Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities, said:

“No-one should be held back in their career because of where they live, what house they can afford, or their responsibility to family. I want everyone to have the same opportunities regardless of the background or location. This is the right thing to do for workers, families and our economy.”

The government’s proposals are being welcomed by the national body for carers in the UK. Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

“Juggling work with caring for someone who is older, disabled or seriously ill is a demanding balancing act and without support from employers can be too much to manage. Carers UK’s own research shows that pre-pandemic, every single day more than 600 people across the UK were giving up work to care for a loved one, with a devastating impact on their personal finances and at a huge cost to the wider UK economy. Giving employees with caring responsibilities a legal right to unpaid carer’s leave and the ability to request flexible working from day one of starting their job is an important step forward for UK workers and could make a difference to millions, enabling carers to support their relatives whilst staying in work, maintaining social connections and improving their financial stability.”

Image Credit: Michael D Beckwith. Photo by Paul Buffington

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