Will the new flexible working bill affect you?

By Anthony Wolny | 29th July 2019 | 10 min read

What is the flexible working bill?

Introduced by Helen Whately; MP for Faversham and mid Kent; the flexible working bill was presented to parliament on the 16th July with the aim of making all job roles flexible by default. Whately utilised the ‘Ten Minute Rule’ in order to put her campaign forward to fellow MPs and backbenchers, and, whilst issues introduced under this rule are unlikely to be made law without significant backing, it can prove to be a great way to stir up debate and conversation about important issues.

What does it aim to achieve?

The main aim of the bill is to introduce the idea that flexible working should be the default position for all UK employees, rather than a concept that relies on individuals requesting their own flexible arrangements. Whately also argued that making flexible working practices law could help to close the the UK’s gender pay gap, assist couples who wish to share childcare, and help businesses to source and retain the very best staff.

When introducing the bill to her peers, Whately argued that unless company owners can provide a specific and sound business reason for requiring rigid working hours, firms should be made to introduce the concept of flexibility to every role.

How widespread is flexible working in the UK?

The prevalence of true ‘flexible working’ is a hotly contested subject, with some news outlets, such as the BBC, reporting that the traditional working hours of 9am to 5pm are now only the norm for as little as 6 percent of workers.

However, many others would argue that the majority of flexible working arrangements are informal at best, and often granted due to length of company service or job level within an organisation. A survey from 2017 showed that whilst 58 percent of workers surveyed had been given the opportunity to work flexibly, a further 47 percent reported that flexible working was not encouraged by their workplace.

Whatever the true state of the situation, MP’s such as Whatley remain convinced that something needs to change in the UK. When introducing the bill in parliament, 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.”

What classifies as ‘flexible working’?

Flexible working is often viewed as something of a broad definition, and can be interpreted in various different ways, but in the UK, it is generally accepted that the following categories can be reflected in a flexible working arrangement:

  • Job-sharing
  • Part-time work
  • Compressed hours
  • Flexitime
  • Staggered hours
  • Annualised hours
  • Phased retirement
  • Working from home or other locations

Why is flexible working beneficial for business?

In a world where an increasing emphasis is placed on wellbeing, mental and physical health and work-life balance, a growing number of businesses are waking up to the benefits that being an enthusiastic advocate of flexible working can bring.

In many cases, promoting that your business embraces flexible working practices can open up new job opportunities to people who may not have otherwise considered the role – this in turn can lead you to discovering new pools of talent that your recruitment team may not have previously uncovered, and could also open your business up to attracting candidates with higher skills levels or competencies than before. It can also elevate your business’s reputation in both the local and wider area, and make you far more attractive to potential employees.

In the long term, offering flexible working to your employees can ultimately create a stronger, loyal and more diverse workforce, who in turn are usually more engaged and productive. You could also look forward to greater cost effectiveness and efficiencies, including savings on potential building overheads if you encourage remote working practices.

How can employees request flexible working?

If you are thinking of introducing a flexible working policy within your business, it may help you to understand the current policy on flexible working, which places the emphasis on individual employee’s requesting their own flexible working arrangements.

The essential legal pointers to remember when considering any flexible working request include:

  • Understanding that an employee can only make one formal request in a 12 month period
  • Ensuring that employees understand they must make a formal request in writing, including the date of the request, and of any previous requests made to your business
  • Recognising that employees with less than 26 weeks service do not have a statutory right to request flexible working
  • Considering all requests and appeals and making an informed decision within three months of the original request being made

If you do decide to decline a request for flexible working, you should also be aware that you must cite a sound business reason, such as disruption to other team members, a reduction in profits, an increase in costs etc…

What can HR software do to help?

Whether you already have a flexible working plan in place, or you are looking to introduce one, HR software can help you to effectively manage multiple flexible arrangements within your workplace.

For example, utilising Workflow functionality can allow you to track and manage flexible working requests from the very beginning – by entering all relevant information into your HR system, you can create customised triggers, which can act as reminders to respond to requests, show deadlines for decisions, and keep track of all active and historical requests.

You can also effectively manage all employees who currently have individual flexible working arrangements via your HR system. All details of their flexibility will be stored against their employee profile, including the date of the original request, the date it was agreed, and the date from which they started their working pattern. For HR managers, you can also set up customised ‘groups’ of employees, which can allow you to view all workers with flexible arrangements collectively, and enable you to pinpoint trends or potential problems caused by a crossover in arrangements.