The government issued a consultation on 23 September entitled, 'Making flexible working the default'. The consultation closes on 1 December.

The introduction to the consultation notes that the government did consider removing the employer's ability to turn down a flexible working request, making flexible working a "right to have", but concluded that, given the broad range of individual needs and wide range of business models, this was not achievable in a practical or sensible way.

The government's proposals aim "to encourage a better discussion between employee and employer" by "reshaping the existing regulatory framework so that it better supports the objective of making flexible working the default". The five proposals forming the basis of the consultation are:

  • Making the right to request flexible working a day one right;
  • Whether the eight business reasons for refusing a request all remain valid;
  • Requiring the employer to suggest alternatives;
  • The administrative process underpinning the right to request flexible working; and
  • Requesting a temporary arrangement.

The consultation emphasises the government's aim of the flexible working legislation genuinely supporting an informed discussion between the employer and the employee.  It notes that if an employer feels that an employee's request is not possible, there might be other possible options and that working together to negotiate a compromise "can help promote stronger working relationships".  The consultation wants to look at how practical it is to ask employers to set out, when rejecting a request, that alternatives have been considered (such as temporary changes, alternative part-time working patterns, or making a change on some working days only rather than on all of them).

As an additional measure to support flexible working the government will invite the Flexible Working Taskforce (a partnership across business groups, trade unions, charities and government departments) to consider how employers, now moving on from their immediate response to the pandemic, can be supported to make informed decisions on their future approach to flexible working.

For more information about flexible working and how to implement it please refer to our: future of agile working hub.

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