Many of us have become accustomed to flexible working as a result of the pandemic, with a significant proportion of the UK workforce required to work from home for the past almost two years. As a result, the Flexible Working Bill was introduced to Parliament last June. It proposes that all employees will have a right to flexible working from the first day they start their job, rather than currently needing to complete 26 weeks of continuous service.
There are many variations of what might be classed as flexible working. Traditionally, it has been most commonly interpreted as part-time working, but following the pandemic, it has taken a variety of different forms. Businesses have been forced to adapt to different working arrangements depending on the legislation in place at the time, coupled with the needs of its employees and, indeed, customers. Improvements and awareness of technology – let’s face it, who used Microsoft Teams or Zoom before Covid? – have meant that employers have enabled much of the workforce to have access to systems and colleagues remotely, far easier than previously.
So what could be considered flexible working?
Of course, we’ve already mentioned the traditional part-time option, which would mean employees work fewer hours, over the same or fewer days than the standard working week. Hybrid or blended working could mean that although the hours remain the same, the location could be flexible, for instance working some days from home and some at the main base. Or, the majority of hours could be at the main location, but with some remote working allowed. There are also options around working just in term-time, which is perfect for parents who need to consider childcare, but wouldn’t have sufficient annual leave to cover all of the school holidays. Job sharing has been around a long time, but is also another form of flexible working, and can help ensure continuation of a role for employers, whilst giving employees more flexibility. Some employers are embracing compressed hours, or even a 4 day week, which moves away from the traditional 9-5 working hours, but is still a full-time role, giving employees more options around working at times that suit them and enabling a better work-life balance. Of course, some of these options can be combined as well to give even more flexibility, dependent on the role and circumstances.
Although there isn’t a statutory requirement for employers to grant flexible working, there is a legal requirement to consider a flexible working request and there are only certain reasons laid down in statute why a request can be refused. Whilst an employee is currently eligible to make a flexible working request after 26 weeks employment, if the proposed changes do become law they would be eligible to do so from day 1 of employment. There can be benefits to the employer and not just the employee, such as helping to retain valuable and trained employees, boosting employee morale, helping recruit the best talent (many job applications now state if they offer flexible working), and enabling employers to be more flexible for their customers. Counter-intuitively, it can also increase productivity.