In December 2019, a new Employment Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech, but it has yet to be published and was notably absent from the May 2021 Queen’s Speech. The Bill does not appear to be shelved but rather it is insinuated that it will be forthcoming “when parliamentary time allows”.
The measures expected to be included in the Bill are widespread and varied but one of the key changes are amendments to the flexible working legislation.
Working from home (WFH) has historically been something that employers had been resistant to, but the pandemic shone a positive light on the success, and indeed, viability of having a vast number of the workforce working from home. There remains a varying view as to what extent WFH will stay in future, but there is no doubt that the awareness of this topic has changed dramatically. The Government’s new proposals would see changes to the rules on flexible working to see flexible working as the default. These proposals would apply to all flexible working requests, not only those for WFH, but the view seems to be that as a result there would be an increase in full-time homeworking long after the pandemic.
The proposals would also give all employees the right to request flexible working from the commencement of employment, rather than after 26 weeks as currently legislated. They would also reduce the time period for the employer’s response, albeit there have been no concrete suggestions as to the level of reduction.
As part of the changes to flexible working the Government are pondering the eight reasons for refusal of a request and whether they are still valid in the current climate, as well as looking at the potential for requiring employers to give more explanation for their decision if they are refusing a request. The UK Government will now consider and analyse the evidence provided through the consultation which ended in December 2021 and publish its response and legislative proposals. The timing for this is uncertain.
We shall continue to monitor the situation and consider the Government’s response and proposals. This is an exciting development and a positive that may come as a result of the pandemic. Flexible working can be particularly valuable for those who need to balance their personal lives with their working lives, including those with caring responsibilities. It can also bring benefits to employers by attracting more applicants and increasing productivity and motivation levels among staff. These legislative changes could, therefore, bring about an outcome that is beneficial to both employers and employees.
Timescales for the measures in the Bill to take effect are not yet established, but it is anticipated that some may be introduced in 2022 and into 2023. A keen eye shall continue to be cast on these developments!
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