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Government proposes new flexible working rights

23rd September 2021

A new government proposal, set to be released for consultation today, would give employees the right to request flexible working from the day they start any new job.

This would modify current legislation, under which employees are only able to make these types of requests once they have completed six months at their current employer.

Employers would then be obliged to explain their reasons behind denying their employees this right and they would also have to suggest alternative work arrangements that may be suitable for the employee.

Additionally, businesses would have to respond more quickly to requests made by employees for flexible working. Currently, employers are able to respond up to three months after the initial request is made.

The term “flexible working” encompasses a variety of different arrangements which, under the Government’s new proposal, would be available to employees to choose from should they wish to exercise this right.

These include options which enable employees to work hours which are different to or fewer than the company norm, the option to work “compressed hours” i.e. more hours in fewer days, the option to work from home for some or all of their contracted hours and the option for employees to “job share” with a peer (where two people do one job and split the hours between them).

The proposal is aimed at giving, amongst other things, employees the right to work from home either some or all the time, as many have done over the last 18 months.

Therefore, if more and more people request flexible working, and this legislation makes it harder for employers to deny employees this right, working patterns may be fundamentally altered going forward post-pandemic.

But what might be the impact of this proposed legislation on the commercial property market?

We may see more businesses choosing to reduce the amount of required office space when their existing lease comes up for renewal or we may see an increase in the number of businesses opting for commercial licenses in serviced offices or coworking spaces to increase the level of flexibility in their workplace occupation.

However, there are some who have criticized the proposal, such as Sue Coe, the TUC’s Senior Equalities Policy Officer, who argues that the right to request does not necessarily mean that employees will be granted the right to flexibility. According to Coe, “a right to request is a right to be turned down for too many.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, also criticized that the proposal made the distinction between the “right” and “right to request”, stating “Labour will give workers the right to flexible working – not just the right to request it.”

If passed, the impact of this new proposed legislation on working habits after the COVID-19 pandemic is uncertain and not guaranteed to result in working from home becoming the “new normal”.

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