Richard Freedman: Government launches consultation on making flexible working the default

The UK government has launched a consultation considering various reforms to the existing flexible working legislation.

The consultation sets out a number of proposals for reshaping the existing regulatory framework to facilitate the objective of expanding the ability to work flexibly. The most striking element is the proposal to give all employees the right to request flexible working from day one of their employment.

Under existing legislation, employees must have been employed for 26 weeks to make a request for flexible working. While employers can currently only reject a request for one of eight specified business reasons, those reasons are quite broad, meaning employers can often rely on one or more to refuse a request.

The consultation seeks to address whether these eight reasons remain valid and whether employers should be required to suggest alternatives if they plan to refuse a request for flexible working.

It is apparent that the government wants businesses to increase the ability for staff to work flexibly and make the most of the lessons learnt, good and bad, over the past 18 months as more people start to return to the workplace and employers respond with new approaches to working.

In short, nothing is changing for now as this is a consultation on proposed reforms. However, it does signal that changes may be on the way and employers should keep these in mind when thinking about their future hybrid working or other working arrangements.

It’s also important to note that despite the title of the consultation “making flexible working the default”, the proposals are about making the right to request flexible working a day one right. It is the right to request which is the default, not the actual flexible working arrangements.

Richard Freedman is a senior associate in Stephenson Harwood’s employment law practice.