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5 things employers should know about flexible working rules in the UK

A year and a half into the great “work from home” experiment in the UK (and globally), one thing is clear: the way employers view work and measure productivity is outdated. Many roles can easily be done from home – or at least flexibly, and brings about many advantages for both employers and employees. A key benefit is that of diversity and inclusivity, as flexible working enables parents and those with caring duties to have thriving careers and contribute to business success. 

While this group long had the right to request flexible working, the rules were changed to give all employees this right, as long as they had worked continuously for the same employer for at least 26 weeks. But a more radical change may be looming. The government is proposing to give all employees the right to request flexible working from day 1. Let’s explore the 5 things employers should know about flexible working regulations in 2021 in this Pacific Prime UK article. 

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1. Flexible working can be quite varied

Flexible working is any working pattern other than the normal working pattern. There are many different ways of working flexibly. It can involve changes to an employees’ working hours and place of work, or even the times they’re required to work. The UK government has the following ways of working flexibly:

  • Job sharing: This involves two employees doing the job of one employee, splitting the hours and the remuneration. 
  • Working from home: This involves an employee completing all of their tasks from home and employees not being obliged to go to the office. 
  • Part-time: This involves an employee working fewer hours than full-time hours, typically by working fewer days. 
  • Compressed hours: This involves an employee working full-time hours, but this can be spread over fewer days. 
  • Flexitime: This involves an employee choosing when to start and end work (within  agreed limits), but work certain core hours. 
  • Annualised hours: This involves an employee having a certain number of hours in a year, i.e. ‘core hours’ worked each week and ‘flexible hours’ when there’s extra demand. 
  • Staggered hours: This involves an employee having a different start, end, and break times as other employees. 
  • Phased retirement: This involves an older employee reducing their hours and working part time until they retire. 

Further reading: Did you know that flexible working arrangements were the key tool for supporting female employees during the pandemic?

2. Employees have a right to request flexible working

At the moment, as long as they’ve worked continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks, employees can apply for flexible working. That said, they can only make one application for flexible working in a year. They will have to write to the employer to make their request and include the following information:

  • The date
  • A statement that this is a statutory request
  • Details of how the employee wants to work flexibly and when they want to start
  • An explanation of how they think flexible working might affect the business and how this could be dealt with, for example if they’re not at work on certain days
  • A statement saying if and when they’ve made a previous application

While special events (major sporting events, royal weddings, etc.) are not reasonable grounds for employees to request flexible working, granting some kind of flexibility for special occasions could be good for staff morale. As such, it’s a creative employee benefit to consider as long as employees can make up the time.

3. Employers must be consistent and can only refuse the application if there is a valid business reason

When employers receive a flexible working request from employees, they should be consistent in their approach. This involves keeping records of who has applied to work flexibility in the past, what the response was, and how the new arrangement is working. This should inform the response to other requests, which employers are required to deal with reasonably. 

Here’s how employers are required to handle flexible working requests in a reasonable manner:

  • Assess the advantages and disadvantages of the application
  • Hold a meeting to discuss the request with the employee
  • Provide a response within 3 months, or longer if agreed with the employee

It’s also vital to note that employers can only refuse the application if there’s a valid business reason to do so. For example, some reasons for refusals could be the burden of extra costs, inability to meet customer demand or reorganise work amongst other employees, detrimental effect on quality or performance, etc.

Employees can appeal. 

In the event that an employer refused an application, the employee in question may appeal the decision. In some cases, if the employee feels like the employer hasn’t handled the request in a reasonable manner, the employee can take them to an employment tribunal

4. Employers must change the terms to the contract if they accept the request

For approved requests, employers are also required to write to the employee with a statement of the agreed changes and a start date for flexible working, as well as change the terms and conditions in the employees’ contract. This should be done as soon as possible, but no later than 28 days after the request was approved. 

Health and safety is still a priority 

Although employers may have a homeworking policy in place, they still have health and safety obligations. Some employers may also choose to go a step forward and offer employee benefits (including health-related benefits) that are tailored to a remote workforce

5. The flexible working rules may change to be more generous to employees

As alluded to previously, the government is proposing to give all employees the right to flexible working from day 1. The consultation document was published by the Department for Business, Energy, & Industrial Strategy and the closing date is December 1st, 2021. The changes proposed in the consultation document reflect the changing nature of work in the post-pandemic world. 

Under the proposed change, employees will no longer need to work continuously for an employer for 26 weeks before being able to request flexible working, and thus have more freedom in switching jobs and benefiting from flexibility from day 1. The proposal would also see employers having to respond to flexible working requests more quickly than the current maximum of 3 months, and force employers to outline exactly why any requests were refused. 

Benefits of flexible working for employers

That said, all this talk about flexible working doesn’t mean employers should worry. There are a number of advantages for employers including:

  • Increasing the talent pool by enabling a wider demographic of employees to apply to the role, and tapping into their unique skills, experiences, and perspective
  • Boosting employee happiness and wellbeing, which translates into greater motivation and productivity

Further reading: Discover more about flexible working arrangements and tips to implement them in our Global Employee Benefits Trends Report 2020

Get in touch with Pacific Prime UK today!

As a global health insurance brokerage and employee benefits specialist, Pacific Prime UK has over two decades of experience helping employers of all sizes and industries design and implement group health insurance and employee benefits solutions. We keep up-to-date with the latest regulations (including the flexible working rules) and market trends, and use a tailored, technology-driven approach that keeps your goals and business interest in mind. 

To learn more about what we can do for you, arrange a FREE consultation with a member of our corporate team today!

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Content Creator at Pacific Prime UK
Suphanida aims to demystify the world of insurance by creating informative and engaging content. As a wordsmith, she spends the majority of her day writing and editing website content, blog posts, in-depth guides, and more.

Outside of work, Suphanida enjoys travelling to new places and immersing herself in different cultures.