New Bill could give employees the right to flexible work post-pandemic

Today (30 June), Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, has proposed a new Bill to parliament that would give workers the right to flexible work.

Co-sponsored by MPs from the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, SDLP and SNP parties, the Flexible Working Bill would give all workers a right to flexible working from the first day in a job and ensure that employers advertise flexibility in job adverts.

As of yesterday, (29 June) 5,300 people had emailed their MP encouraging them to support it.

The latest on flexible work:

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The government said it will consult on making flexible working the default later this year, but campaigners want to overhaul the current right to request flexible working as it can be easily rejected.

The CIPD launched a campaign in February this year asking employers to make flexible working requests a day-one right

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said there needs to be a new understanding about what flexible working is.

He said: “Employers need to embrace flexible working arrangements beyond home working, to give opportunity and choice to all."

Siidiq said the current law is outdated and new legislation is needed to make flexible working a right for all rather than a perk for the few.

She said: “There’s a misperception that the country has enjoyed a year of flexible working. The reality is that the majority of workers, and particularly those on lower incomes, have not felt the benefits of home working and all other forms of flexibility have declined since last March.

“Four in five workers want to work flexibly, but a shockingly high proportion of requests for this are rejected by employers, often with little or no justification."

Between March 2020 and March 2021, support group Pregnant Then Screwed's employment helpline received double the number of calls from mothers who were experiencing flexible working issues than they received in the previous year.

Two-thirds of requests (71%) were rejected, a significant increase from the year before when half (53%) had their flexible working request rejected.

Previous research from the group also found fathers’ requests for flexible working are turned down at almost twice the rate of mothers.

Matt Jenkin, partner and head of employment law at Moorcrofts, told HR magazine employers can easily turn down flexible working requests made by employees, no matter their situation. 

He said: “The grounds available to an employer for turning down a request are wide. 

“This, combined with Employment Tribunal's very limited ability under the flexible working regulations to interfere with the decision of the employer, has raised concerns over the effectiveness of the right to request approach to flexible working.”

However, Jenkin said employers should be aware that turning down flexible working requests can leave them open to indirect sex discrimination claims.

“In light of the decision made by the Tribunal last week, employers should take judicial notice of the childcare disparity."

Last Wednesday (23 June) a woman fired by North Cumbria NHS trust for not agreeing to work weekends won an appeal after a judge said employment tribunals must take childcare disparity into account.

“With request for flexible working likely to increase as employees look to keep the flexible working patterns adopted during the pandemic, employers need to make sure that requests are given proper consideration,” said Jenkin.    

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) supports the Bill.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, lots of workers will want to work more flexibly to help them do their job and manage their other responsibilities too.  

“Flexible working isn’t just about working at home. It can mean having predictable or fixed hours, working as a job-share, or working flexitime, term-time only hours or compressed hours. 

O’Grady said no one should miss out on flexible working options and that government must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job.

Siddiq’s Bill is supported by the Flex for All campaign, which includes the TUC, Pregnant Then Screwed, the Fawcett Society, Mother Pukka, Young Women's Trust, Gingerbread and The Fatherhood Institute, as well as the charity Working Families.