What the UK’s incoming flexible working laws mean for you

In this image, a woman is sitting at a table and working on her computer. There is a red tablecloth. There are two kids in the background.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill went through a third reading in the House of Lords with no additional amendments last week and now only requires Royal Assent before becoming law.

The legislation is set to give the UK workforce more say in how they work than ever before – including being able to request remote or flexible working patterns from the first day at a new job. 

Currently, employees have to work for 26 continuous weeks to request changes to their working hours, pattern or location. 

In addition to employees having the right to flexible working immediately, new provisions in the bill require employers to respond to requests within eight weeks and allow employees to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period.

The bill also states that if an employer cannot accommodate a request to work flexibly, they are required to discuss alternative options like part-time, flexible or home working before they can reject the request.

The UK’s incoming flexible working laws have been described as ‘a no-brainer’

According to the UK government website, millions of employees will “have a greater say over when, where, and how they work” and businesses are “set to benefit from higher productivity and staff retention as a result.”

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The government’s new measures define ‘flexible working’ as anything from remote working to job-sharing, flexitime, or working compressed, annualised, or staggered hours.

Commenting on the bill when introduced in December of last year, the UK’s minister for small business, Kevin Hollinrake, said: “Giving staff more say over their working pattern makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Put simply, it’s a no-brainer.

“Greater flexibility over where, when, and how people work is an integral part of our plan to make the UK the best place in the world to work.”

A change eight years in the making

While the push for a right to flexible working accelerated throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversation started back in 2015 when Anna Whitehouse, a journalist and founder of the parenting website Mother Pukka, kicked off the Flex Appeal campaign along with her husband Matt Farquharson, making the case for a better work-life balance for working parents.

In an emotional Instagram post shared last Monday (17 July) that has been liked over 50,000 times, Whitehouse wrote that employers will “have to look you in the eye and tell you why it’s not possible to do your job around childcare responsibilities, around a disability, perhaps, around anxiety; around human needs.”

Amanda Vlietstra – a magazine editor from High Wycombe and a single parent to two teenagers – believes that flexible working is a must-have. 

“The normalisation of the flexible working model is a game-changer,” she tells PinkNews. “Particularly for women and people from minorities and those with disabilities, who’ve been held back by a culture of presenteeism and bums on seats.” 

Vlietstra adds that she believes the changed law will “allow employees to progress through the organisation and have an actual career, instead of just a job.”

How flexible working can benefit the LGBTQ+ community

While the data is clear that the burden of maintaining a household still largely falls on women, the Flexible Working Bill will benefit all marginalised groups, including the LGBTQ+ community.

Paul Britton, director and solicitor and the employment law firm Britton & Time, believes that these new laws are another step in the right direction for workplace equality.

He tells PinkNews that the Flexible Working Bill will provide great benefits for the LGBTQ+ community, especially for “those who want to have children and become parents as they will be able to ask for flexible working around school runs, school holidays and time they need at home with their children.”

“Up until now, it’s been recognised that mothers need this,” he continued, “and in some small description fathers and their paternity leave that they are already entitled to.

“This is a big step for our community, and getting it recognised officially and by law in terms of equality is fantastic.”

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