The experience of employers in the last few years has helped bring about significant changes in working practices - many businesses adopting a greater flexibility in the working week and workplace location of their staff.

As a result, further changes to the Flexible Working rules which are currently in place, have been proposed.

While employees with a minimum of six months service have been entitled to apply for flexible working conditions since 2014, under the proposed new rules, UK employees will be able to request flexible working from day one of their employment.

The new rules also aim to remove exclusivity clause restrictions, making it easier for employees to work simultaneously for multiple employers.

What is Flexible Working?

Essentially, this means any working arrangement that is not a standard 9-5, five-day week. This can include:

  • Working part-time in a combination of hours/days that equate to anything less than a standard full-time working week
  • A combination of working from home and from the office (Hybrid Working), or the ability to work entirely from home (Homeworking)
  • Job sharing - a type of part-time working where one full-time role is shared between more than one employee
  • Annual hours - an employee's hours are expressed as a total number of hours to be worked during the course of a year. Hours of work are likely to change from week to week and month to month, but normally the pay and benefits are calculated as if the employee works the same hours each week. This could also include a term time arrangement where the employee takes paid/unpaid leave during the school holidays.
  • Compressed/condensed hours - normally involves working standard working hours but over a reduced number of days e.g. working a ten-hour day for four days rather than eight hours per day over five days.
  • Flexi-time - where the employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain 'core hours' and achieves their contractual hours in the working week.
  • Employee self-rostering/shift swapping - where employees (normally within a team) decide what shift they will work or swap shifts with colleagues to allow flexibility when they need it.

So what's likely to change?

1. Currently, employees have to wait 26 weeks before being able to request flexible working, but under the new changes, the right to request flexible working will be from day one of employment.

2. It's important to remember that employees have a right to request flexible working but not a right to have it. Employers can still reject a request on one of the eight existing business-related grounds (See Flexible Working), but they can no longer outright reject a request and must discuss alternative arrangements in consultation with the employee.

3. Employer decisions on flexible working arrangement requests must now be made within two months; this was previously three months.

4. Employees will be able to make two statutory requests for flexible working in a 12-month period. Currently, employees are only entitled to one statutory request in a 12-month period.  This will benefit employees whose personal circumstances change during the year.

5. As it currently stands, when making a flexible working request, employees have to explain how their request will affect the employer, but under the new rules, the requirement for the applicant to explain the impact on their employer and suggest ways to mitigate its effects will be removed.   This is considered more equitable as certain employees, such as those who are junior or who have learning difficulties, would be at a disadvantage if required to do this.

6. The new rules also aim to remove exclusivity clause restrictions for workers on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income of £123 a week or less. This will make it easier for low paid workers to boost their earnings by working for more than one employer on short-term contracts.

How will the changes affect employees and employers?

The new rules are meant to give employees greater control over their working lives, leading to better work-life balance and the ability to make time for other commitments.

Adopting a more flexible approach to working can also be beneficial to employers, the business benefits including a more productive and happier staff, improved staff retention, and access to a wider talent pool.

Conversely, businesses may struggle if they have a deluge of flexible working requests, making it difficult to accommodate every request. 

With this in mind, flexible working should be considered during the job design, recruitment and appointment phase, rather than on day one.

When are the changes likely to take place?

Whilst there is no definitive date as to when these changes will come into force, it is currently making its way through parliament.

The government has confirmed its intentions to introduce the changes, so it's likely that the new rules will be introduced sooner rather than later. 

Therefore, now might be a good time to review your flexible working policies and procedures, so it will be a relatively smooth transition to accommodate the changes to be incorporated in your own working procedures.