According to new proposals set to be published by Government ministers, employees will have the right to request flexible working from day one in a job. 

This shift in policy is set to be announced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), allowing staff to immediately submit a request for flexible working even when they have just moved into a new job.

At present, employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible to put in a request.

Although employers have a duty to review the request in a “reasonable manner”, the decision on whether to grant flexible working is ultimately left to the discretion of the employer.

It is understood that these plans have been in the works prior to the 2019 general election, as laid out in the Conservative Party manifesto, but that the pandemic has expedited implementing more flexible ways of working.

This comes at a time where the proportion of individuals working remotely has been declining since March 2021 as lockdown restrictions began to ease.

Earlier this year, CIPD research also found that flexible working options – excluding remote working – have actually decreased for staff over the past year, with part-time working, flexi-time and the use of annualised hours falling from 2020 figures.

Daniel Zola, Associate in the Employment team at Collyer Bristow, a law firm, called this a “positive step in encouraging a flexible workforce” but noted potential limitations:

Over the past 18 months, many have reaped the benefits of working more flexibly and from home. The proposal that employees can make these requests from day one is a positive step in encouraging a flexible workforce.

However, if employers are not encouraged or required to more readily accept these applications, then the impact may not be as great as the Government hopes. Currently, employers are able to refuse a request for a variety of business reasons and once a request is refused, the employee is unable to make another formal request for up to 12 months.

The Government may need to consider other measures to strengthen the employee’s right if it truly wants to engender a more flexible workforce, such as reducing the grounds for refusal or making it easier to challenge a refusal in the Employment Tribunal.

A spokesperson for the Government stated:

As is set out in the 2019 manifesto, the government is committed to consulting on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to – boosting business productivity and helping even more workers to join the labour market.

Our proposals will be published shortly.