Kerry Hudson: Is a change ahead in flexible working laws?

UK employees seeking flexible working arrangements to help manage their work-life balance could be caught short unless they have completed at least 26 weeks of service for their current employers.

With a great many businesses and employees still away from the office since the start of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, and the Omicron variant prompting fresh government guidance to work from home where possible, many people, particularly those who have previously been on flexible furlough or working from home, are of the mistaken belief that flexible working hours are an automatic right.

Whereas some employers are happy to accommodate such requests as a way to retain their staff and can offer a workable and happy compromise that can be organised informally initially, it must not be forgotten that employers are also fully within their rights to insist a flexible working request is made through formal channels with a written application and then a meeting.

Employers have three months to consider such a request and, even then, the answer may be no if agreeing to the suggestion would mean business needs could not be met. Employers also do not legally have to consider requests from an employee who has been with them for less than 26 weeks.

The UK government has recently launched a consultation on plans to allow workers to make their request from day one in a new job. Applying to England, Scotland and Wales, the consultation ran from 23 September to 1 December 2021 and sought views from individuals and businesses on proposals to reform flexible working regulations. The government is currently analysing the feedback received from the public and will publish the outcome in the near future.

It is also anticipated that such requests would be handled more quickly under the plans. But until that time the existing law for new employees stands.

Kerry Hudson is a solicitor in the personal injury and employment department at law firm at Brindley Twist Tafft and James