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UK workers given day-one flexible working rights

Millions of UK employees will be able to request flexible working from their first day of employment, as per new measures introduced by the government.

Under the new rules, responding to the Making flexible work the default consultation in September 2021, workers will be able to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period, and employers will have to respond to within two months rather than three.

Previous legislation meant employees had to wait 26 weeks before being able to request flexible working.

Employers will also be required to discuss alternative options before denying a request if they can't accommodate an employee's flexible working request.

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Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, which has been campaigning for flexible working to be a day-one right, said the new measures were an important step.

He said: “We’re delighted the government is bringing in a day-one right to request flexible working. We’ve been calling for this change as it will help create fairer, more inclusive workplaces and improve access to flexible jobs for many people. Older workers, those with caring responsibilities and people with health conditions are among those who will particularly benefit.

“This new right will help normalise conversations about flexibility at the start of the employment relationship, with significant benefits for employees in terms of wellbeing and work/life balance. Just as importantly, it will also enable organisations to attract and retain a more diverse workforce and help boost their productivity and agility.”

The onus will no longer land on employees  to outline how effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by their employer, and government has extended a ban on exclusivity clauses to contracts for those who earn up to and including the lower earnings limit of £123 per week meaning they can now work for more than one employer.

Marcus Beaver, UKI country leader at Alight Solutions, said the new laws represent a shift in power between employers and employees.

He said: “The power dynamics in the workplace continue to shift, with employees set to gain the right to request flexible working from day one. A seismic change observed during Covid is now entering legislation, and the message is clear.

“Workers now have more power than ever. Companies rely on their staff and cannot ignore their needs. Employers should take note and put them at the forefront of decisions or risk losing valuable staff to those who do offer them more.”

Steve Collinson, chief HR officer at Zurich UK, added: “As a flexible working employer for over a decade, Zurich has seen the benefits that this brings on both sides. In 2019 we went one step further and introduced our part time jobs initiative where all roles are available on a part-time or job-share basis as well as full time. Overall applications to the company have been boosted by over 50% as a result.

“Offering flexibility removes barriers for applicants and enables us to access a whole new pool for talent. This is a priority in the current climate but also benefits working parents, carers, those with portfolio careers or other interests they want to pursue. Workers want a new deal and are no longer prepared to work in outdated and rigid patterns.”