Thank you for emailing me about flexible working.
Flexible working patterns can be mutually beneficial to the employer and the employee, helping attract and retain a workforce, increasing productivity and reducing costs.
Separate to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, legally, at present, all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer have the right to request flexible working. The Government will be consulting in the longer term on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to. This was a 2019 Conservative Party election manifesto commitment, which covers a range of working arrangements around the time, place, and hours of work, including part-time working, flexi-time, or compressed hours, not just working from home. I understand this consultation will be published later this year, with legislation to follow when Parliamentary time allows. I hope you will agree this is a welcome step and demonstrates the Government’s desire to deliver on our manifesto commitment to protect and enhance workers’ rights.
Ministers have also consulted on proposals for large employers (with over 250 employees) to publish their parental leave and pay and flexible working policies, and to advertise jobs as open to flexible working. I understand that they are now considering the next steps.
The current arrangements provide that all employees meeting the service requirement have the legal right to request flexible working, not just parents and carers, by making a statutory application. Options for a request include working from home, job sharing, working part time or full time over fewer days, flexi-time, annualised working hours, staggered hours compared with colleagues and progressing through a phased retirement.
Once an application has been made the employer has three months to decide, or longer if by agreement with the employee. Agreement with the request will lead to a change in the employee’s contract, whereas in the event of refusal the employer must write to the employee setting out a legitimate business reason for the refusal. In the event of a dispute the employee may have recourse to an employment tribunal.
Finally, more broadly, I have also been reassured that Ministers are working with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development to commission the Flexible Working Taskforce to put together non-binding advice for employers around some of the work being done in the workplace and some outside of it, as many employers would typically already be doing. The Taskforce can help to take forward the best of what has been learned through the pandemic and help support workers and employers to adapt to new ways of working.
While we continue to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses which have previously never adopted flexible working have been forced to adopt new arrangements. This has included remote working, using new technology for work, or finding new ways of working. I hope that this exposure will have enabled employers to see first hand the benefits of flexible working, and I imagine that this could have a significant effect on working arrangements in the future when the pandemic is over.
I understand Tulip Siddiq MP is introducing a Ten Minute Rule Bill on flexible working. I am encouraged by the steps that the Government is taking to consult on future working arrangements and as such I feel it is premature to support a Bill before responses to the consultation are analysed and the Government has put forward its policy proposals.
Thank you again for contacting me.