Millions of Britons to be able to request flexible working on day one of employment

Press release from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Kevin Hollinrake MP

  • Millions of employees will receive day one right to request flexible working, empowering workers to have a greater say over when, where, and how they work
  • businesses set to benefit from higher productivity and staff retention as a result
  • around 1.5 million low paid workers will be given even more flexibility, with new law coming into force to remove exclusivity clause restrictions, allowing them to work for multiple employers if they wish

Millions of employees will be able to request flexible working from day one of their employment, under new government plans to make flexible working the default.

Flexible working doesn’t just mean a combination of working from home and in the office – it can mean employees making use of job-sharing, flexitime, and working compressed, annualised, or staggered hours.

The raft of new measures will give employees greater access to flexibility over where, when, and how they work, leading to happier, more productive staff. Flexible working has been found to help employees balance their work and home life, especially supporting those who have commitments or responsibilities such as caring for children or vulnerable people.

Alongside the clear benefits to employees, there is also a strong business case for flexible working. By removing some of the invisible restrictions to jobs, flexible working creates a more diverse working environment and workforce, which studies have shown leads to improved financial returns.

Today’s announcement comes alongside new laws coming into effect that will allow Britain’s lowest paid workers to work more flexibly and boost their income through extra work.

Minister for Small Business Kevin Hollinrake said:

Giving staff more say over their working pattern makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Put simply, it’s a no-brainer.

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.”

Exclusivity clauses

Workers on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income on or below the Lower Earnings Limit of £123 a week will now be protected from exclusivity clauses being enforced against them, which restricted them from working for multiple employers.

These reforms will ensure around 1.5 million low paid workers can make the most of the opportunities available to them such as working multiple short-term contracts. This will particularly benefit those who need more flexibility over where and when they work, for example students or people with caring responsibilities.

While not everyone will want a second job, today’s laws on exclusivity clauses remove unnecessary red tape that prevents those who do – for example gig economy workers, younger people, or carers who cannot commit to a full-time role. The laws will also help businesses plug crucial staffing gaps by giving employers access to recruit from a wider talent pool.

Flexible working

If an employer cannot accommodate a request to work flexibly, they will be required to discuss alternative options before they can reject the request. For example, if it is not possible to change an employee’s working hours on all days, they could consider making the change for certain days instead.

The new legislation, backed in the government’s response to the Making flexible working the default consultation, will also remove the requirement for employees to set out the effects of their flexible working requests to employers, removing a large administrative burden for both sides.

The ‘Making flexible working the default’ consultation recognised that flexible working is different for every employee, employer, and sector – it does not come in one size only. For an office worker, they may benefit from a job-share so they can better care for their children, or a factory worker may request different shift patterns that suit their balance between home and work. Because of this, the government will not instruct employers or employees on how to carry out their work, instead we encourage both parties have constructive and open-minded conversations about flexible working and find arrangements that work for each side.

Notes to editors

The government has today responded to the Making Flexible Working The Default consultation. The government response will be published on that page.

The measures the government is committing to in full 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
  • remove the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might be dealt with by their employer

The day one right to request flexible working will be delivered through secondary legislation.

The government is pleased that it is supporting the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill throughout its journey in Parliament. This Bill was introduced by Yasmin Qureshi MP and will make the other policies law through primary legislation.

The response also commits to non-legislative action: developing guidance to raise awareness and understanding of how to make and administer temporary requests for flexible working; and launching a call for evidence to better understand how informal flexible working operates in practice.

The full government response to the consultation on exclusivity clauses is on GOV.UK.