After much speculation and expectancy, the government confirmed its backing of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill on Monday 5 December 2022.
The change in law will mean that an employee can request flexible working from day one of their employment.
Flexible working is not only limited to a hybrid system of working from home and in the office, but it also extends to job-sharing, the use of flexitime, and working compressed, annualised, or staggered hours.
The range measures to be granted through the new legislation will give employees greater access to flexibility over when, where and how they work. Flexible working, becoming mainstream during the Coronavirus Pandemic, has shown to allow employees to better balance their work and home life. For example, easing the pressure on employees who have care commitments or responsibilities in relation to their children and/or other vulnerable people in their family.
It cannot be ignored that flexible working is also of benefit to businesses. Better working arrangements suited to the employer and employee can lead to a happier and more productive workforce. Furthermore, flexible working, by removing geographical and other barriers to recruitment, creates a more diverse working environment and workforce, which will inevitably lead to a larger turnover for the employer.
As set out by the government in its announcement, the measures legislation is committing to will:
- remove the 26-week qualifying period before employees can request flexible working, making it a day-one right;
- require employers to consult with their employees, as a means of exploring the available options, before rejecting a flexible working request;
- allow employees to make 2 flexible working requests in any 12-month period;
- require employers to respond to requests within 2 months, down from 3; and
- remove the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by their employer.
In addition to changes to flexible working, there is further legislative measures to come with regards exclusivity clauses in contracts of employment. This following the response by the government to its consultation on measures to reform the same published in May 2022.
The Government has set out that it will legislate, in due course, on extending the ban on exclusivity clauses, making them unenforceable in employment contracts where the guaranteed weekly income is below or equivalent to £123 a week (the current the Lower Earnings Limit).
As a consequence, workers on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income on or below the Lower Earnings Limit will now be protected from exclusivity clauses being enforced against them, which restricted them from working for multiple employers. This in essence will mean that workers on the lower end of the earnings scale can take on further employment in addition to their current role.
The proposed legislation will also extend the following rights for workers on employment contracts:
- not to be unfairly dismissed;
- not to be subjected to a detriment for failing to comply with an exclusivity clause; and
- to claim compensation
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