The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has criticised the Government’s proposals for implementing the right to request flexible working from day one in a job. 

According to new proposals published today by the Government, UK employees will have the right to request flexible working from day one in a job, intended to provide staff with more choice over where and when they work.

As such, the proposed changes mean that employers will need to consider whether they can offer flexible working before advertising as all applicants will need to know they can ask for flexible working before applying for a job.

Furthermore, the Government have also announced a day one right to a week’s unpaid leave for carers balancing caring responsibilities alongside their job.

An estimated 2.2 million UK workers will be given the right to request flexible working under these new plans, building on methods of work adopted throughout the pandemic.

In particular, the Government have emphasised that this includes all methods of flexible working such as job-sharing, flexi-time, annualised and staggered hours and phased retirement as well as working from home.

This could also have a positive effect on British businesses through attracting talent, improving staff motivation and reducing staff turnover, the Government states.

However, several details are still left to iron out including whether an employee should still be limited to a single request for flexible working per year and whether employers should respond to the request sooner than the three month period currently allotted.

If an employer is not able to accommodate a specific flexible working request, the company would be expected to consider alternative arrangements.

Despite this, the Government still maintains that there will be some circumstances where businesses will not be able to offer flexible working and can reject requests if they have sound business reasons to do so.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng outlined the benefits of these new plans for businesses and employees:

Empowering workers to have more say over where and when they work makes for more productive businesses and happier employees.

It was once considered a ‘nice to have’, but by making requests a day one right, we’re making flexible working part of the DNA of businesses across the country.

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

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development added this is a “welcome move to help create more inclusive workplaces”:

We believe a day one right to request flexible working will help broaden the accessibility of all types of flexible working, including flexibility in hours as well as location. In turn this will boost inclusion, wellbeing and performance which is beneficial to both employers and employees alike.

However, some bodies such as the TUC have insisted that these proposals do not go far enough, with the General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, stating:

Under these plans employers will still have free rein to turn down all or any requests for flexible working.

Instead of tinkering around the edges, ministers should change the law so that workers have the legal right to work flexibly from the first day in the job.

The right to ask nicely is no right at all.

Not all jobs can support every kind of flexible working – but all jobs can support some kind of flexible working. And all job adverts should make clear what kind of flexibility is available.