Government confirms plans to improve flexible work and carers' rights

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has confirmed its intentions to give UK workers the right to request flexible working from day one of the their employment, as well as other plans aiming to improve workers' work/life balance.

Announced 23 September 2021, the government proposal to extend current flexible work rights include:

  • Introducing the day-one right to one week’s unpaid leave per year for working carers
  • Potentially cutting the three-month period employers currently have to consider flexible work requests
  • Considering whether the one-per-year limit to an employee’s flexible work application is enough
  • Allowing all job applicants to know they can ask for flexible work before they apply, therefore making sure employers know whether they can offer flexible work before advertising
  • Encouraging employers to consider alternatives, such as flexibility on certain days, if they cannot accommodate a request

As part of the review, the BEIS has said the proposal will look at a range of flexible working methods outside of working from home and flexitime.

It will also consider job-sharing, compressed, annualised and staggered hours and phased retirement.

Realising there are some circumstances where businesses will not be able to offer flexible working, it also stated that requests can still be rejected on the basis of sound business reasons and, changes will respect freedom of contract.

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The CIPD, which launched its Flex from 1st campaign in February to give workers the right to request flexible working from day one of the their employment, has welcomed the move.

Chief executive Peter Cheese said: "Learning from the pandemic, many organisations are now open to more hybrid ways of working which give their employees greater flexibility and say over where they work. But the reality for those whose roles can only be done at their place of work – such as on construction sites, or in hospitals or warehouses – is that they often have very little flexibility in how they work.

"Employees may not be able to change where they work, but they could have more choice and a say in when and how they work. Flexible working is good for inclusion, wellbeing and productivity, and will help employers attract and retain a more diverse workforce."

In its announcement, the BEIS outlined the ways business would benefit from improved flexible working conditions for their workers.

It cited figures that showed 87% of people want to work flexibly, and nine in 10 employees find flexible working motivating for their productivity.

It stated that the CBI Employment Trends survey also found that 99% of all businesses believed that a flexible workforce is vital or important to competitiveness.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng commented: "Empowering workers to have more say over where and when they work makes for more productive businesses and happier employees.

"It was once considered a ‘nice to have’, but by making requests a day-one right, we’re making flexible working part of the DNA of businesses across the country.

"A more engaged and productive workforce, a higher calibre of applicants and better retention rates – the business case for flexible working is compelling."