Anyone can now ask to work flexibly…

It’s a day to celebrate! From today, all UK employees have the right to request flexible working  – in any form – it can be reduced hours, job sharing, working from home, or whatever variation is appropriate for the particular circumstances. Up to today, this right has existed but only for parents and carers. Now, anyone who has already worked for their employer for six months can make a flexible working request, whether their reason is caring responsibility, a thirst to increase their skills through training or education, a to great idea to start their own business, a desire to contribute more to the local community, a wish to slow down later in life but continue working, or simply a change the balance of their life.

This new policy seems like a real step in the right direction in the UK. The recognition that everyone, not just parents and carers, may want or need to work flexibly is very welcome. This kind of policy seems to have been one of the main factors that enabled the Dutch to achieve the lowest working hours in Europe.

However, the change comes with a sting in the tail. Everyone can now make requests to work flexibly, but previously when parents and carers made these requests, employers had to respond according to a strict process and employees had a right of appeal if their request was turned down. Now, that process and right of appeal are gone, replaced simply by an employer obligation to respond ‘in a reasonable manner’ to requests. Details are here.

Nevertheless, the broadening of the right to make requests is a very welcome and important change. It will be interesting to see how requests for flexible working increase, what proportion succeed, and the resulting changes in UK work culture and norms, over the coming few years. Perhaps this will be the day we look back to as the day everything changed.

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