Tory ministers are set to make home-working jobs the norm – but it won’t actually give you a cast-iron legal right to demand one. Here’s everything you need to know about Thursday’s announcement
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Working from home could become the norm for millions of Brits under changes to flexible working rights.
Tory ministers are expected to unveil long-awaited plans to let workers request flexible working from day one in a job – rather than the current six months in.
Firms will have less opportunity to reject requests and will have to respond to them quicker than the current three-month limit, a consultation to be unveiled on Thursday is set to say.
The legal changes will be open to all Brits but are particularly aimed at women, disabled people, parents and carers.
Workers will also be able to make more than one request a year.
But this is not a blanket legal right to work from home if you want to – because firms will still be allowed to reject requests.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s announcement will fulfil a 2019 manifesto pledge to consult on making flexible working “the default unless employers have good reasons not to”.
Government sources suggest more than 2million workers could benefit from the changes.
So what can we say about the legal changes so far?
A health warning here: What’s launching on Thursday is only a consultation, so it could look very different by the time it’s made law. We also don’t know when the law might actually change.
But here’s what we do know, from previous announcements and our sources, about what is due to be announced.
Rights from Day 1 – not six months in
Currently, workers are only allowed to request flexible working once they’ve been in their job for 26 weeks (six months).
Under changes to be proposed in Thursday’s consultation, that right to put in a formal request will be moved forward to people’s first day in a new job.
Employers will still be able to reject such requests, but they will need a legitimate business reason to do so. Workers can fight at a tribunal if they’ve been treated unfairly.
Firms will have less time to respond to requests
Firms must currently response to all requests for flexible working in a “reasonable manner” within three months.
It’s understood the consultation will propose shortening that three-month time limit, though the new limit is not yet clear.
It’ll be harder for them to reject your request
If businesses want to reject a flexible working request, they must fulfil one of a string of criteria by law.
These are currently:
- If it’ll cost the business too much
- If work cannot be redistributed
- If more staff cannot be recruited
- If it’ll hit quality, performance or meeting customer demand
- If the employee won’t have enough work on flexible hours
- If there are planned changes to the business
Ministers believe this net has been cast too widely, the Mirror understands. The list of excuses is so wide that a boss wanting to reject a flexible working request could almost certainly find a reason.
It’s understood the consultation will propose narrowing down the circumstances in which a request can be rejected.
People can make more than one request per year
Currently, employees can only make one request for flexible working per year.
It’s thought the consultation will propose abolishing this limit, and allowing workers to make more than one request per year.
But this is NOT a legal right to work from home
None of the plans will give Brits a cast-iron legal right to work flexibly, or from home, if their employers don’t want them to.
Under all the circumstances, workers will be able to “request” flexible working and their request must be properly considered.
But if there is a legitimate reason, it can still be rejected.
Labour ’s plans appear to go further, placing a “duty” on employers to accommodate flexible working “where there is no reason a job cannot be done flexible and remotely”.
Flexible working means many things – including WFH
It’s also important to note this isn’t just about working from home.
Flexible working can mean:
- Working from home
- Job sharing between two people
- Part-time working
- Compressed hours – squeezing 40 hours into 4 days
- Flexitime, with “core hours” such as 10am-4pm and other hours made up at other times
- Annualised hours – where employees’ working hours are measured per year, not per week
- Staggered hours – where start, finish and break times differ from worker to worker
- Phased retirement – where older workers can choose when to retire, including working part-time as a transition.