The government today announced plans to strengthen day one employment rights, giving employees the right to request flexible working from the day they start any new job.
A consultation launched today also proposes a day one right to one-week’s unpaid leave for carers balancing a job with caring responsibilities.
Under current rules, employees can only make the request for flexible working once they have completed 26 weeks of continuous service at their current employer.
The proposals also consider whether limiting an employee’s application for flexible working to one per year “continues to represent the best balance between individual and business needs” and looks at cutting the current 3-month period an employer has to consider any request.
Employers would be obliged to explain their reasons behind denying their employees this right and they would also have to suggest alternative work arrangements that may be suitable for the employee.
“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,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said.
The term “flexible working” encompasses a variety of different arrangements which, under the government’s new proposal, would be available to employees to choose from should they wish to exercise this right.
The consultation looks at a range of flexible working methods such as job-sharing, flexitime, compressed, annualised and staggered hours, as well as phased retirement – not just working from home. The government said this will allow employees to balance their work and home life, including helping people who are managing childcare commitments or other caring responsibilities.
“Millions of people face the dual challenge of balancing full or part-time work with other responsibilities such as caring for loved ones,” Labour Markets Minister Paul Scully said.
“By introducing one week of additional leave for unpaid carers, we will give these unsung heroes greater flexibility to help them better manage their personal and working lives, while giving them greater access to the job market.”
The government added that businesses would still be able to reject a request if they have sound business reasons and it will respect freedom of contract rather than prescribing specific arrangements in legislation.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has welcomed the consultation, noting that convenience stores provide local, secure and flexible employment to 392,000 people across the country, 64 per cent of whom have childcare or family commitments that need to flex around their work.
“We know how important it is to our colleagues to balance to work and personal commitments so we welcome more clarity on flexible working requests. The convenience sectors offer genuinely flexible, secure working opportunities that are informed by good communications between retailers and stores colleagues,” James Lowman, ACS chief executive, said.
Welcoming the proposals, James Timpson, chief executive of Timpson Group said: “People are our greatest asset as a business. I focus a lot of my time in creating a great culture, with a big part of that making sure colleagues feel empowered to work in a way that best suits them and also delivers for us.
“Giving workers more choice about how they work will not only inspire and motivate staff, it will also help businesses attract and retain the best talent to grow their companies.”
Sue Coe, senior equalities policy officer at the TUC, however said the right to request does not necessarily mean that employees will be granted the right to flexibility. “A right to request is a right to be turned down for too many,” she said.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, also criticized that the proposal made the distinction between the “right” and “right to request”, stating “Labour will give workers the right to flexible working – not just the right to request it.”
Type of flexible working proposed in the consultation include:
- job sharing: two people do one job and split the hours
- part time: working less than full-time hours (usually by working fewer days)
- compressed hours: working full-time hours but over fewer days
- flexitime: the employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain ‘core hours’, for example 10am to 4pm every day
- annualised hours: the employee has to work a certain number of hours over the year but they have some flexibility about when they work
- staggered hours: the employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers.
- working from home: it might be possible to do some or all of the work from home or anywhere else other than the normal place of work
- phased retirement: older workers can choose when they want to retire, meaning they can reduce their hours and work part time