UK employees will have the right to ask for part-time hours or homeworking arrangements from the first day of a new job under measures to promote flexible working set out by the government on Monday.
Kevin Hollinrake, minister for small business, said it was a “no-brainer” to extend the existing right to request flexible working after 26 weeks with an employer, as it would help people with caring responsibilities to balance work and home life, and create a more diverse workforce.
The measures, to be delivered through secondary legislation, will also allow employees to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period, rather than one at present; shorten the deadline for employers to respond; and require employers to explore all options before rejecting a request.
The changes are an advance on the current situation, where many people who need to balance work with family obligations struggle to find a new job or switch employer, because posts are rarely advertised as flexible and they cannot wait six months to make a request that may be rejected.
However, campaigners said the proposals do not go as far as they had hoped. They argued that they left employers free to reject a flexible working request and under no obligation to consider how roles could be adapted before recruiting for them.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, the umbrella body for the UK’s trade union movement, said a right from day one to request alternative working arrangements would be a “small step in the right direction” but workers needed “the legal right to work flexible from their first day in a job — not just the right to ask”.
A survey released last week by Timewise, a flexible working consultancy, found that just three posts in 10 were advertised as offering any form of flexible working — which can include arrangements such as job-sharing or adjusted hours according to employee needs or compressed hours, as well as part-time and remote work.
The proportion of flexible working posts being advertised is a bigger than in the past, but that is largely because of hybrid and remote working in professional sectors such as marketing and finance during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Only 12 per cent of jobs were advertised as open to part-time work, the type of flexible working most in demand, according to the survey — the proportion was much smaller in higher-paid roles. Timewise said this meant many single parents especially were excluded from the labour market or “trapped in jobs below their skill level”.