New rules aimed at boosting uptake of flexible working arrangements still give employers’ significant discretion to reject those requests, lawyers have told City A.M.
New laws aimed at increasing flexibility in the workplace, by giving low paid workers the legal right to ask for a more flexible arrangement and letting all staff ask for flexible arrangements from their first day in the job will likely do little to actually increase flexible working, lawyers said.
In announcing the new rules, the UK’s minister for small business Kevin Hollinrake said: “Giving staff more say over their working patterns makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Put simply, it’s a no-brainer.”
However, lawyers speaking to City A.M. warned the UK’s new laws still give employers significant discretion to reject employees’ requests.
Stewarts partner Charlie Thompson explained the “legal framework which gives employers eight potential reasons for rejecting a flexible working request remains unchanged.”
“It will still be just as easy for employers to reject flexible working requests as it has always been,” Thompson said.
Winckworth Sherwood partner Susan Kelly noted employers are allowed to reject flexibility requests for reasons including an “inability to reorganise work among existing staff” or a potential “detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand”.
BDB Pitmans partner Nicholas Le Riche said the rules mean “employers still have wide scope to refuse a request” but noted the requirement to offer alternatives could still boost access if it is strictly enforced.
The new laws come after the Conservative Party in its 2019 manifesto set out plans to make flexible working arrangements the “default” arrangement in UK companies.
“Greater flexibility over where, when, and how people work is an integral part of our plan to make the UK the best place in the world to work,” Hollinrake said.
The Confederation of British Industry’s chief policy director Matthew Fell said: “Flexible working needs to suit the individual and the business – that’s why a ‘right to request’ approach is the right one.”