The UK government is backing a bill that would give workers the right to request flexible working arrangements from the first day of employment.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, in which millions of workers began working from home as lockdown orders were enforced, most employees continued to have some flexibility in how and when to work, and many organizations now they practice a hybrid work model. .

In 2021, the UK saw an acceleration in the adoption of flexible working, according to research by software company Unit4. However, a survey published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in October 2021 found that half of the 13,000 working mothers surveyed said that their boss rejected their request for flexible work or only accepted part of it. Additionally, 86% of respondents who already worked flexibly said they experienced discrimination and disadvantage at work as a result.

Employees in the UK are currently only allowed one request for flexible working arrangements per year, while the new bill allows for two requests per year. In addition, the new legislation would require employers to consult with employees before being allowed to decline a flex work request. They would also be required to discuss other options before rejecting a request, while the timeframe for responding to flexible work requests will be reduced from three months to two.

These changes will be particularly beneficial to employees, said Tracey Hudson, chief executive of consultancy HRDept, adding that introducing the bill now, during a cost-of-living crisis, will be appreciated by many people trying to balance caregiving children and other family responsibilities while juggling a new job.

“As it stands, all employees have the right to request flexible work, but they must first have worked for their employer for 26 weeks, so those who take up new jobs will appreciate that right to help balance their bank balances and family responsibilities. ," she says.

Hudson added that while flexible working isn't something an employee should immediately rely on, just knowing that it's possible to request flexible work from day one will put them at ease.

According to Unit4 respondents, there are concerns that if companies don't embrace their flexible working approach, staff will leave. Over the past 12 months, 39% of organizations surveyed have seen people quit for more flexibility elsewhere.

Extensive support for flexible work

The proposed flexible working rules are part of the far-reaching Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, which is currently in parliament. The bill enjoys broad cross-party support and is expected to pass, though there is no timetable for a final vote.

In a note accompanying its announcement of support for the bill, the government said: "Flexible working does not just mean a mix of home and office work, but can mean job sharing, flexible hours and compressed, annualized, or staggered hours.” .”

HRDept's Hudson said the desire for a four-day week was strong. Therefore, being able to apply for flexible work is high on the priority list of job seekers. There is a significant shortage of candidates in the UK job market, so employers who offer flexible working by default or those who proactively consider ways to improve the work-life balance of their teams will attract candidates in a tough market, he said.

Although employers will now have to start changing their flexible working policies and updating their procedures to ensure they comply with the new legislation, Hudson said it's unlikely there will suddenly be a massive influx of applications when these changes take effect.

“In small businesses, flexible work requests are often dealt with informally because working relationships are closer and SMEs [small and medium-size businesses] are brilliant at being agile in an emergency,” he said. "Employers are so focused on retaining their good staff, especially since it's so hard to recruit, that in my experience they will be as accommodating as possible to their employees, whether the government orders them to or not."

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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