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Flexible working requests: workers could get new powers

Under new government proposals, employees will have the ability to request flexible working arrangements starting on their first day of employment if the plans are approved.

Marie
03/01/2023

Employees will be given the power to request flexible working from the first day of their employment, if new Government proposals are given the green light.

In early December Minister for Small Business, Kevin Hollinrake, unveiled the plans which intend to give more workers access to flexible working, creating a happier and more productive workforce. As well as choosing between home and office, people could also take advantage of job-sharing, flexitime and working compressed, annualised, or staggered hours.

The government announcement came following the conclusion of the ‘Making flexible working the default’ consultation. More than 1,600 responses were received from businesses of all sizes, individuals and charities.

“With skills shortages and worker discontent rife across the UK at the moment, any steps to help alleviate some of the pressure on the labour market are certainly welcome,” said Tania Bowers, Global Public Policy Director at APSCo.

“APSCo has long advocated a more flexible approach to employment legislation that recognises the nuances in the range of employment contracts and ways of working that have become the norm in the modern world of work.

“However, as we made clear in our submission to a BEIS consultation in 2021, these proposals could have serious ramifications for agency workers, particularly umbrella employees. There is the possibility that these changes could unintentionally lead umbrella workers – who are employed by the umbrella company – to access day one rights to flexible working due to their status as employees with overarching contracts.

“If umbrella companies, recruiters and clients have to consider an unexpected flexible working request on day one of an agency worker contract, it would have a financial and time impact on all parties and could potentially disincentive clients from using temporary workers.”

What are the flexible working proposals?

The current right to request flexible working legislation gives all employees with 26 weeks continuous service the power to make one application per year to change their working pattern, location and hours. The new measures would make this right available on day one of employment.

There would also be a requirement for businesses to consult with an employee when they intend to reject a flexible working request. Workers will be able to make two statutory requests in any 12-month period and a decision must be made within two months (currently three months).

The proposals would also remove the requirement for workers to explain what effect, if any, a change would have on the business.

If a business cannot accommodate a request to work flexibly, they will need to pursue other options before formally rejecting the request.

When setting out the new plans, the government has recognised that there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to working arrangements. This is why legislation remains a ‘right to request’, rather than a ‘right to have’. The government’s priority is to establish the right conditions to allow employees and employers to explore available options.

The government has also committed to developing guidance to raise awareness on how to make and administer temporary requests for flexible working. It will also launch a call for evidence to understand how informal flexible working operates in practice.

Exclusivity clauses

The package of measures also included reforms to exclusivity clauses, which have had a negative impact on low-earning workers. Staff on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income on or below the Lower Earnings Limit (£123 a week), will now be protected from exclusivity clauses which prevent them from working for other businesses.

This should mean that an estimated 1.5 million low-paid workers can take advantage of other work opportunities, such as multiple short-term contracts. In particular, this should benefit employees who require more flexibility, such as students and carers.

As well as benefiting low-paid workers, it is hoped that limiting exclusivity clauses will provide businesses with a larger pool of available talent.

Need advice?

If you are worried about how the new flexible working proposals might impact your recruitment business, call our friendly team on 0845 606 9632 or email hello@recruitmentaccountants.com.

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