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12th July 2023

Stephen Morrall discusses how flexible working trends have developed since lockdown in Employee Benefits

Stephen Morrall discusses how flexible working trends have developed since lockdown in Employee Benefits

Stephen’s article was published in Employee Benefits, 12 July 2023, and can be found here.

How flexible working trends have developed since lockdown

With the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill moving closer to becoming law, employees are set to benefit from a positive reform of employment rules which reflect growing trends toward flexible working across the UK. Under current legislation, a person who has 26 weeks of continuous service with their employer can request a change to their working hours, times or location. They are also required to explain the effect of the change on their employer and can only make one request in a 12-month period.

The amendments proposed in the Bill which are supported by the Government and received an unopposed reading in the House of Lords would allow employees to make two requests per 12 months, no longer have to explain the impact on their employer, and require consultation before an application is refused. Employees would also have the right to request flexible working from their first day in a job, rather than be forced to wait 26 weeks before the right is conferred upon them.

The reform of flexible working rules has been a government policy, supported by the opposition, since 2019, but was expedited in the wake of the 2020 lockdown which forced firms to swiftly change working habits and conditions, including a sharp increase in working from home and moving to flexible working hours. The Bill’s passage through Parliament follows a wide-ranging governmental consultation on flexible working carried out in December 2022.

Post-pandemic, many employees requested their employers continue to allow them to work flexibly, given the manifold benefits to employees and the lack of negative effect on their output. Hybrid working, in which employees spend part of their working week at their company’s office and the rest of the time working from home, has also proved popular since lockdown began, and both hybrid and flexible working show no sign of reduction in appeal to workers. While employers may at times face challenges due to the fragmentation of the workplace, they have found ways to adapt to reflect the new culture and will need to continue to do so as flexible working rights become enshrined in law.