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How businesses can prepare for the rise of flexible working

by Sarah Plaka on 19 Aug 2019

In July, MP Helen Whately introduced a Flexible Working Bill in Parliament.

It suggests that flexible working should be the default position for all employees, rather than it being up to individuals to request.

“What if we flip the question and ask whether a job cannot be done flexibly? How many more employers would find that actually it did not make a difference where or when a piece of work was done, as long as it was done?” Whately asked.

Speaking in the House, she said: "The 40-hour, five-day working week made sense in an era of single-earner households and stay-at-home mums, but it no longer reflects the reality of how many modern families want to live their lives.”

“At the moment, too many women are reluctantly dropping out of work or going part-time after having children because their employers won’t allow them flexibility. This entrenches the assumption that men are the breadwinners and women are the homemakers.

“As a result, men don’t get to spend as much time as they might like with their children, women miss out on career opportunities, and the country loses out on the contribution they could and would like to make – if only they could do slightly different hours or work some days from home.”

Considerations for business

In terms of how these changes might impact business, Philip Landau, Employment Lawyer at Landau Law Solicitors, says,With only the short title of the Bill as reference at this stage, it is unadvised to yet make any long-term concrete plans. After a second reading in the Commons, debate and royal assent, the Bill would then likely take several months to be introduced as law, assuming it is passed. When matters become clearer, then planning can start.

The main considerations will be in adjusting employment contracts and company policies, as appropriate. A clear position on the following, as well as other areas, will be required:

Whether it will be inappropriate, or indeed unlawful, for an employer to `opt out` of flexible working contracts for its employees.

  • Must employers offer total flexible working rights, or will offering selective limited flexible working rights be lawful?
  • Whether different departments can adopt different rules within the same company, and how is this to be conveyed to their staff?
  • What will the penalties be for employers who fail to adhere to the new rules? Also, will there be any penalties for workers who abuse their flexible working rights?
  • How are employees expected to be notified of the new changes: company-wide, at the discretion of each department etc.? Will employees have the opportunity to discuss their individual requirements on a personal level?
  • Will there be a phased or complete rolling out of the new rules? Companies should be prepared for a complete roll-out.
  • There will undoubtedly need to be an interaction and input from unions (where appropriate) about the new rules and how they will work in each individual organisation.
  • How will new policies work alongside existing flexible workers, who have already made an application, and will there be a conflict between different workers being granted different rights?

It is probably the case that little groundwork can begin until the Bill becomes law and we know more about how the new rules are intended to work. That said, an initial consideration of existing contracts and policies, together with the suitability of your company for various flexible working conditions is sensible at this stage.”

Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families

As with many other Private Members’ Bills it is unlikely to become law unless it receives Government backing. But regardless of the Bills' progress, flexible working isn’t going away any time soon.

Speaking to Debra Gers, Senior Practice Lawyer at Blake Morgan, on the Government's ‘Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families’ consultation, she said: “One stated aim is to improve the transparency of employers’ flexible working and parental leave and pay policies to ensure this information is available to job applicants. Many applicants are reluctant to ask about flexible working because of concerns it will harm their chances of being appointed.

The consultation asks whether employers should be under a duty to consider whether a job can be done flexibly and advertise it accordingly. This could mean including in the advert a statement like ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’, or details of the ‘core hours’ or a link to a published policy. It also proposes requiring employers with 250 or more employees to publish family related leave/pay and flexible working policies on their website.”

What’s the next step?

Debra suggests that there is no need for employers to wait for the Government's response to the consultation. “Most employees want a better work-life balance regardless of age or family circumstances. Providing flexible working opportunities makes business sense especially at a time of record employment levels. So, businesses should think about what jobs can be done flexibly and advertise this clearly, make sure flexible working policies are gender neutral and encourage senior managers to champion flexible working.”

Sarah Plaka

Written by Sarah Plaka

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