The government has published its response to last year's consultation on updating flexible working laws. Here is a summary of its response:
- the right to request flexible working will become a Day One right (it is currenty only available to employees with 26 weeks' continuity). The government emphasises in its response that this remains a right to request, not a right to have flexible working.
- employees will be allowed to make two requests (previously one request) within a 12 month period, and the response time for employers will reduce to two months (previously three months).
- there will be a new duty to discuss alternatives to the request (so that if the employer intends to reject the request, it must discuss whether there are alternative forms of flexible working available). It is not clear whether this will be a statutory requirement giving rise to a cause of action, or just soft guidance.
- the procedure for requesting flexible working will be simplified by removing the requirement for employees to set out how the effects of their flexible working request might impact upon the employer. The consultation response is silent on removing other aspects of the red tape surrounding requests, for example making sure the application is dated and expressly stating that it is request made under the flexible working legislation.
- there will be no change to the list of eight reasons the employer has to refuse a request for flexible working.
The consultation paper notes that primary legislation is required, but does not include any draft legislation or set out a timetable. However, the government has also said it will support this existing Private Members' Bill, so it looks like the change allowijng employees to make two requests within 12 months, and for the decision time to be reduced to 2 months, will happen sooner rather than later.