Effective 1 June, we have a new address: 34 Imperial Square, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1QZ
Get in Touch Menu

Flexible working: New government consultation planned

06 July 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of working life as we know it, from compulsory PPE in the workplace, socially distanced seating arrangements or the requirement to work from home some or all of the time.

As restrictions ease, though, it seems that the flexible approach to working life could be here to stay. The government has announced a review later this year on the expansion of employees’ right to work flexibly and remotely.

Currently, employee requests to work ‘flexibly’ (i.e to make changes to their working patterns) are made formally. Employers are obliged to make a decision within three months, dealing with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. However, the government consultation will look into strengthening employees’ rights in relation to flexible working, with a government spokesperson claiming that the consultation will consider ‘making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to’.

This move will no doubt attract a mixed response. While it is arguable that flexible working (and remote working) can allow employees to better balance work and life commitments, there is concern that the boundaries between home and work life are blurred by remote working, negatively impacting wellbeing. Employers will have to weigh up the potential increases in productivity (a recent CIPD survey found that 71% of employers say that the increase in homeworking has either boosted or made no difference to productivity) with the possible negative impact on areas such as networking and training opportunities.

There are other, wider consequences to consider too. While flexible working is largely recognised as providing a better work-life balance, improper implementation can lead to employees being unfairly prejudiced. In a recent tribunal case, attention was again drawn to the fact that women are less likely than men to be able to accommodate flexible working patterns because of childcare responsibility.

Women often bear the greater burden of childcare than men, which limits their ability to work certain hours; often referred to as the ‘childcare disparity’. If a flexible working policy puts an employee at a particular disadvantage due to the childcare disparity, this could give rise to a discrimination claim. Care must be taken to ensure to ensure that any flexible working policy considers societal norms and pressures that may impact an employee’s ability to work flexibly.

Additionally, there is a risk that flexible working rights will only benefit professionals with office-based jobs. To benefit those that are unable to work from home, any changes to flexible working provisions will need to be extended to flexi-time, job share opportunities and part-time working.

We’re here to help

Email Hayley

Hayley is a solicitor in our Legal 500-rated employment law team. She helps clients with a wide range of matters, from tribunal proceedings to operational advice on employee relations issues.

Hayley Ainsworth BA, MSc
View profile
Related services
Share this article
Resources to help

Related articles

Major Supreme Court ruling finds paid holiday for part-year workers cannot be pro-rated

Employment & business immigration

On 20 July 2022, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s earlier decision in Harpur Trust v Brazel that part-year workers should not have their paid holiday pro-rated. Here,…

Matthew Clayton MA LLM (Cantab), CIPP/E

“It’s too hot to work” - or is it?

Employment & business immigration

If this is the cry you are hearing from your staff during the current heatwave, you may be interested to know that although health and safety laws say that working…

Matthew Clayton MA LLM (Cantab), CIPP/E

Webinar: Working with the menopause

Employment & business immigration

With growing attention around the impact of perimenopause and menopause on employees our employment lawyers look at the potential impacts for your organisation and explore how best to support your…

Contact us