Currently flexible working is at the discretion of employers and only available to those after 26 weeks of continuous service. Some employers need full time in person staff ; some could offer remote or part-time working , but Covid19 has stirred up many changes in the workplace and flexible/remote working requirements were leading examples.
To understand your right to request and take flexible working you would need to review your contract of employment and staff policies and handbooks. You would need to approach your employer and make a request for their consideration. Providing the decision is not discriminatory they can ultimately decided yes or no or offer an alternative.
The Employment Relations (Flexible Working Bill) (‘FWB’) seeks to change this. Will this be complicated for employers ; cause concern or promote a healthy workplace?
The Employment Relations (Flexible Working Bill) was first introduced to parliament in June 2021 by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi. The aim of the FWB was to champion flexibility and to allow all workers the legal right to request flexible working from day one of their employment instead of the current 26 weeks’ continuous service. Does this request though make it mandatory for the employer to consider and enact such requests?
The FWB had its second reading in the Commons on Friday 28 October and if ultimately passed, employers would be required to make it clear in job advertisements if flexible working is included in the job package. The FWB would afford two opportunities to make a flexible working request in a 12-month period as opposed to one, which is the current position. This would also introduce a new requirement on employers to consult with employees before rejecting their request and employers would have two months (previously three months) to make a decision. As such whilst the request is now possible , less restrictive, ultimately the employer may still reject the proposal.
What does flexible working look like?
Although the pandemic has been one of the biggest triggers forcing businesses to implement flexible working, it has nevertheless been around for years and has been implemented in working policies. Flexible working is an alternative to traditional working hours. There are many different ways one can work flexibly. These include:
- Part-time working – employees work less than the traditional 9-5 core hours or less days per week.
- Working from home – employees will spend all or part of their week working from home or somewhere that is not the office.
- Job sharing – two employees agree to split the hours of a full-time job between themselves.
- Compressed hours – employees fit a 40-hour week into fewer days, usually four instead of the standard five.
- Flexi-time – employees benefit from the freedom to work in any way they choose and at any time outside of their contractual hours.
What are the benefits of flexible working?
The FWB has sparked a lot of positive commentary and sent vital messages to businesses that they need to create more opportunities around flexible working. Now, more than ever, flexible working is a key player in helping businesses to rebuild as society learns how to live with COVID-19. It can assist working parents ; those facing increased travel costs and assist with a work life balance and reducing mental wellness concerns.
Benefits to employers
Happy employees are productive employees, which means greater growth and a healthier bottom line. Flexible working is an excellent way to accomplish this because it demonstrates that employers care about their employees’ well-being and are actively cultivating their company culture. It can also aid in the empowerment of employees by encouraging, autonomy, trust and personal investment in the company. When recruiting, offering flexible working can increase the number of potential candidates – some of whom may be outstandingly talented and a valuable asset to a business but whom might not have applied if flexible working was not available.
Flexible working is beneficial not only for recruitment, but also for employee retention. It can help businesses retain talented employees whose personal circumstances may have changed and would leave if they could not move to a more flexible working pattern.
Benefits to employees
Employees benefit from flexible working hours because it allows them to balance work with family and personal obligations. For instance, an employee who also has to care and tend to an elderly family member could still do their job effectively by working from home a few days a week. This reduces stress whilst also allowing them to successfully manage their personal and professional duties. It also gives employees more control over their own work schedule and, for instance, can significantly reduce commute times and avoid disruption on public transportation.
However, things that must be countered against all the positives or considered carefully would include:
- GDPR the passing of data between employer and employee – so secure equipment , safe working station , software and virus policies and checks
- Health and welfare checks on employees at home as they need to login and checkin and have someone to approach for welfare issues or supervision and support
- Training – keep in touch days ; onsite learning is a vital part of some roles that cannot easily or effectively be done remotely and this must be factored for both employer and employee
- Team work – how to you build and retain a team all working remotely . Careful consideration as to team days or conference calls and how to keep in touch ; have support and mentoring availability for those that need it
- Too much screen time – Zoom and Team calls have become the norm and often this means hours in front of a computer – how can an employer be sure of the employee’s well-being and ensure regular breaks are taken
- Longer hours – many working at home wont have the boundaries work place workers create with hours in and out the place of business; travel and lunch times. People could work much longer and concentrated hours and an employer could ultimately be responsible for any health or well-being issues that arise from this
- Those in the work place maybe resentfully covering those not ; maybe paying those travelling in the same as those not paying for travel will be considered unfair – balancing out fair practices and benefits across all staff will be essential
These are just some thoughts employers will need to consider and implement. Robust policies are advised as guidance ; to manage expectations and protect both parties during working hours.
As we move into a new post-pandemic world employers need to be more proactive and innovative to attract and retain staff, but they also need to perform and protect themselves so a careful plan should be considered and monitored.
What employers need to do?
If there are not already any in place, employers should consider implementing a policy for dealing with requests to work flexibly. In order to ensure that the policy benefits both parties, it should be developed in consultation with employees, their representatives and trade unions where they are recognised.
The policy should address the following issues:
- The application process and procedure to make a request for flexible working.
- A statement stating that the employer will consider the request and will only reject it if it based on business grounds.
- Who can attend the flexible working request meeting with the employee.
- What procedures are in place for appeals.
The time constraints for responding to requests.