Government consultation on flexible working - have your say

14 October 2021

Farm business

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has opened a consultation on proposals to reform the flexible working regulations. This consultation is now closed.

The proposals in the consultation (set out below) are to allow every employee in Great Britain the right to request flexible working – regardless of time served – under government plans to modernise the way we work. Under the plans – delivering on a commitment set out in the government’s 2019 manifesto – around 2.2 million more people will be given the right to request flexible working. This consultation is now closed.

The proposals consider whether limiting an employee’s application for flexible working to one per year continues to represent the best balance between individual and business needs. The consultation also looks at cutting the current three-month period an employer has to consider any request.

If an employer cannot accommodate a request, as can be the case, they would need to think about what alternatives they could offer – for example, if they couldn’t change their employee’s hours on all working days, they could consider making the change for certain days instead.

The consultation also looks at a range of flexible working methods such as job-sharing, flexitime, compressed, annualised and staggered hours, as well as phased retirement – not just working from home. It allows employees to balance their work and home life, including helping people who are managing childcare commitments or other caring responsibilities as well as ensuring that people who are under-represented in Britain’s workforce, such as new parents or disabled people, have access to more opportunities.

Consultation proposals

Below are the five proposals to reform The Flexible Working Regulations 2014 so that it better supports the objective of making flexible working the default. It considers:

  • 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
  • Requesting a temporary arrangement.

Good for business

The government believes that the proposals are also good for British business. Research has shown companies that embrace flexible working can attract more talent, improve staff motivation and reduce staff turnover – boosting their business’s productivity and competitiveness.

Freedom of contract

However, there are some circumstances where businesses will not be able to offer flexible working. That’s why the government is clear that they should still be able to reject a request if they have sound business reasons and will also respect freedom of contract rather than prescribing specific arrangements in legislation.

The proposals instead will provide a framework to encourage conversations and balance the needs of employees and employers.

Find out more and have your say

The NFU will be responding to the flexible working consultation and would like to hear members' views on the proposals being considered by Government. We are especially interested in members' responses to the following questions:

  • Do you agree that the right to request flexible working should be available to all employees from their first day of employment?
  • Given your experiences of Covid-19 as well as prior to the pandemic, do all of the business reasons for rejecting a flexible working request remain valid?
  • Would introducing a requirement on employers to set out a single alternative flexible working arrangement and the business ground for rejecting it place burdens on employers when refusing requests?
  • Do you think that the current statutory framework needs to change in relation to how often an employee can submit a request to work flexibly?
  • What would encourage employees to make time-limited requests to work flexibly? Please provide examples.

The consultation closes on 1 December 2021. If you would like to have input into the NFU response, email UmViZWNjYS5Cb290aEBuZnUub3JnLnVr by 17 November 2021.

You can also read the full consultation paper or respond to the consultation directly.

Background information

The right to request flexible working

Provisions set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and regulations made under it give all employees a statutory right to ask their employer to change their contractual terms and conditions of employment to work flexibly, provided they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks continuously at the date the application is made.

An employee can make one statutory request in any 12-month period.

A statutory application under the right to request flexible working legislation involves the following steps:

1 The employee notifies the employer of the request and that it is under the right to request flexible working legislation.

2 The employer considers the request and notifies the employee of the decision within 3 months – or longer if agreed with the employee.

3 If the employer agrees to the request, they must change the terms and conditions in the employee’s contract.

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