Working arrangements | The Christmas Present of Further Rights for Flexibility?

The Christmas Present of Further Rights for Flexibility?

In the midst of all the industrial turmoil in the runup to Christmas, the Government have announced new legislation that could be beneficial for millions of employees from day one of employment. Should we see this as a Christmas gift or not?

Just what is being proposed?

The Government’s proposal would drastically reduce the time period of current arrangements, where workers have to wait for twenty-six weeks of continuous service before they have the legal right to request flexible working arrangements, to essentially it being available as soon as you are employed. In addition, further changes proposed mean that two statutory requests could be made in any twelve-month period rather than one and that employers would legally have to respond to them within two months rather than three. The current requirement for the worker to explain the effect, if any, the change applied for would have on their work and how it may be dealt with is also being revoked, thus the onus of understanding the consequences is back with the employer.

There is no proposal to change the reasons why an employer can turn down such as request, these being:

  • It will cost too much

  • They cannot reorganise work among other staff

  • They cannot recruit more staff

  • There will be a negative effect on quality

  • There will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand

  • There will be a negative effect on performance

  • There’s not enough work for you to do when you’ve requested to work

  • There are planned changes to the business and the employer thinks the request will not fit with these plans

All of this would mean that the process and timing of requests for flexible working from an employee are simplified and speeded up, and this mostly has cross party support, although many employee organisations still maintain that it still does not go far enough. The chief executive of the CIPD has said that the new measures would be an important first step and that they had been campaigning for this as a day one right for some time to create fairer, more inclusive workplaces. He added that it would be likely to be of particular benefit to older workers and those with caring responsibilities, enabling organisations to attract and retain more diverse types of workers boosting productivity and agility.

There are further proposals included involving removal of exclusivity clauses with those on lower wages meaning that they would now be able to work for more than a single employer.

Although some see this as no more than a simple paper exercise that employers will simply dismiss, via the above reasons, or that employees will be too reluctant to bring up during interview or probationary period, there is the possibility that it may lead to organisations being more amiable to offer compromise if not able to completely fulfil requests. As the size of the UK workforce declines is this further evidence of the shift in power balance towards the workers? Must organisations now take employees seriously if they want to attract and maintain valuable staff, enough is enough?

So, who could benefit from new flexibilities?

All forms of flexibility can be of benefit to workers as well as employers, this can take many forms (see below). If we consider the worker – employee relationship as a contract, then if the flexible working proposed benefits both sides of the contract whatever form it takes then there is more likely to be a positive outcome.

There may be a short term benefit to the employee if we tip the balance to increase their freedom to work when and where they like – however if this is tipped too far, then this may have detrimental effects to the viability of the business. Just as tipping it the other way, may have just as many implications on the attraction, retention, and maintaining goodwill of the workforce.

So, ideally flexibility must benefit both the business and the worker, and this may mean working differently than organisations have in the past, but the balance must be maintained between flexibility, a decent reward, security for the employee and long-term strategic planning for the employer. 

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