Last week, MP Helen Whately introduced a flexible working bill to Parliament. The bill comes as she and other campaigners have called for employers to introduce flexibility in every workplace unless there is a sound business reason for specified working hours.
So, what is the proposed change and how does it differ from the current position?
Legally speaking, employees have a right under the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 to make a request to their employer to be able to work flexibly. The employer will then have 3 months to consider the request and notify the employee of the outcome. The employer must give 'reasonable' consideration to the request but nonetheless, has the ability to reject the request for one of eight statutory reasons. Some examples include rejecting on the basis that the request would mean "that there is a detrimental ability to meet customer needs; a detrimental impact on 'quality' and; a detrimental impact on performance."
Ostensibly this seems fine, but it is easy to see how an employer would be able to reject an application on the basis of one of the above (or any of the other) reasons laid out in the regulations, indeed it can be argued the employer has more options to reject an application, giving them more muscle power to reject a request. In the case of a denied request, an employee does have the ability to bring a claim, but in the interest many employees seldom do.
This is the linchpin of the proposed bill, a formal and processed request (legal or informal) should not have to be made; flexible working should be part in parcel of the job. As Whately states 'the 40 hour, five day working week no longer reflects the reality of how modern families want to live their lives' . This will particularly assist in closing the gender pay gap and help parents in sharing childcare responsibilities but also that in general, the change would be good for employee morale and loyalty.
The more employers that ingrain flexible working in their culture, the bigger the domino effect on other businesses. Such business will no longer be able to resist the change by relying on the notion that they have to work in accordance with the hours of their customers and clients (other workplaces), if such customers and clients adopt flexible working. Many employers worry that flexible working would cause employees to have a lax attitude towards work however this argument is moot. We are moving away from the traditional practice of being chained to our desks for a set amount of hours each day, it is evident that people work best when they are able to work according to their needs, leading to better quality work, a healthier attitude to work, and a sense of loyalty to their employer.
The bill is due to be reviewed for a second reading on Wednesday.