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Right to request flexible working

Overview
An employee's statutory right to request flexible working was dramatically widened in June 2014. Before this date, employees needed to meet prescriptive eligibility requirements, such as having caring responsibilities for either a child or an adult in need of care. Now, all an employee needs to be eligible to request flexible working is 26 weeks' continuous service and not to have made a previous request within the last year. The statutory procedure for dealing with flexible working requests was also repealed.
 
That said, even eligible employees do not have the right to work flexibly, but rather a right to submit a request to their employer for flexible working. On receipt of the request, following the law change, the employer is under a duty to consider the request in a reasonable manner, but does not have to follow a statutory procedure.

Key points

  • The right to request flexible working is available to employees with a minimum of 26 weeks' continuous service with the employer.
  • No qualifying period of employment is required for claiming unfair dismissal where an employee has been dismissed for making a request for flexible working.
  • The right to request flexible working applies to both full-time and part-time employees.
  • If a request for flexible working is refused, the employee must make any claims to an employment tribunal within three months of the 'relevant date'.

Recent developments 

Govt plans to extend scope of legal right

The Government response to consultation on extending the scope of flexible working legislation is expected, now that consultation on the subject was closed on 1 December 2021.

The consultation, "Making Flexible Working The Default", considered amongst other things, removing the current 26 week service eligibility criterion, meaning that employees will be able to request flexible working from day one of employment.

Read more on this in the In Depth section. 

Spotlight put on flexible working notspots

Analysis of official data by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has found the use of flexible working arrangements is unequal across the UK, leading to a warning of the risks of potentially creating a two-tier workforce. Using data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey, the CIPD has ranked UK nations and regions from the most to the least flexible in terms of working arrangements.

It has shown some areas to be “flexible working notspots”. Workers in South East England have the best flexible working options, followed by the East of England, while workers in the Yorkshire and Humber region are least likely to have flexibility in their role. Generally, the analysis found that in regions where employees report better flexibility in hours, they tend to have less flexibility over where they work (the North East comes out top for flexible hours, but bottom for flexibility of location).

Regions with greater flexibility in terms of where employees work have the opposite problem, with less use of flexible hours and informal flexibility (Londoners have the best flexibility around where they work, but many do not have flexibility in their hours or informal flexibility with their employer).