Flexible working is the benefit at the top of almost every employee's wish list. For most people, having more autonomy over working hours is more important than other perks. According to one survey, 76% of employees would rather have flexible working hours over other benefits such as a company-sponsored retirement plan or finishing early on a Friday.
Under the new Flexible Working Bill — officially called the Employment Relations Bill — workers have greater say over when, where and how they work.
But what does the legislation entail? And will it really make remote working the norm for employees?
What does the Flexible Working Bill cover?
Employees will be able to request flexible working from day one of their employment under the new plans. Under the new law, employers are required to consult with employees before rejecting their flexible working request.
Workers have the right to make two requests in a 12-month period, while previously they could only make one. And it doesn’t simply mean a combination of working from home and in the office. The bill allows employees to make use of job-sharing, flexitime and working compressed, annualised or staggered hours.
If an employer can’t accommodate a request to work flexibly, they will be required to discuss alternative options before they can reject the request. So an employee’s hours may be changed for certain days, if not all.
The Flexible Working Bill also requires employers to respond to requests within two months, instead of the previous three. Finally, it also removes the requirement for employees to lay out how a flexible working request might impact the employer.
What are the limitations of the Flexible Working Bill?
A key limitation of the bill is that employers don’t have to approve all flexible working requests, even if they have to consider them.
Additionally, critics say the practice of requesting flexible working isn’t implemented fairly across sectors and different types of workers. Some employers have also misused the policy. In 2021, an estate agent won £180,000 after her boss was found to have unfairly rejected her request.
However, it is hoped the bill will “normalise” conversations about flexibility and encourage more employers to take requests seriously, according to the CIPD.
Additionally, around 1.5 million low-paid workers will be given even more flexibility, with new law coming into force to remove exclusivity clause restrictions, allowing them to work for multiple employers if they want to.
Workers on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income on or below £123 a week will now be protected from exclusivity clauses being enforced against them. Previously, this restricted them from working for multiple employers. For example, low-paid workers will now be able to work multiple short-term contracts.
Does the Flexible Working Bill go far enough?
The bill is good news for employees who want to improve their work-life balance, including those who have commitments or responsibilities such as caring for children or vulnerable people.
Although the move is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to make sure everyone has access to flexible work, according to the Trades Union Congress.
“Flexible working should be available to everyone — but we know that many mums, carers and disabled people don’t get the flexibility they ask for at work,” says TUC general secretary Paul Nowak.
“This bill — along with the government’s commitment to allow employees to ask for flexible working from their first day in a job — is a small step towards that goal.
“But the government must go much further to ensure that flexible work is open to all.
“Ministers must change the law so that every job advert makes clear what kind of flexible working is available in that role, so people know before they start a job whether it works for them and their loved ones.”
Nadia Vatalidis, VP of people at the HR firm Remote, says the bill will benefit both employers and employees. “Despite these new legislations being explicitly created for employees, studies have also shown higher productivity and staff retention rate, influencing financial return as a result of flexible working,” she says.