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United Kingdom

UK: Flexible working – UK government consultation

The UK government has published a consultation paper seeking views on a range of measures intended to imbed greater flexibility across all workplaces, including opening up the right to request flexible working to all employees from the start of their employment.

The key proposals outlined in the consultation are:

  • making the right to request flexible working a day one entitlement – instead of requiring 26 weeks’ continuous service as is currently the case
  • looking at whether the eight business reasons employers can give for refusing a request all remain valid
  • if an employer cannot accommodate a request for flexible working, requiring the employer to think about what alternatives they could offer
  • considering whether employees should be allowed to make more than one flexible working request a year
  • considering whether to cut the current 3-month period that an employer has to consider any request to a shorter period
  • how to encourage more employees to utilise their ability to request a temporary flexible working arrangement

Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel

These proposed reforms would not give employees the right to work flexibly and do not change the fundamental position that the right is merely a right to request to work flexibly.

Although employers are required to handle requests reasonably, there is no proposal to introduce a reasonableness test when it comes to looking at the employer’s decision on whether or not to grant a request. In practice many responsible employers will already adopt most of the proposals, not least to try to avoid the potential risk of indirect discrimination claims that often arise out of the same facts.