Government consultation planned on flexible working: What does this mean for employers?

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.

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

Categories: Member News

Posted by:

Willans LLP Solicitors

Hayley Ainsworth, Solicitor, employment law, Willans LLP

Willans LLP Solicitors

Willans LLP is a law firm noted for giving expert, practical and personal service to businesses, individuals and charities & not-for-profit organisations. We act for local, national and overseas clients and offer comprehensive legal services in residential property/conveyancing; divorce & family law; wills, probate & trusts; agriculture & estates; dispute resolution/litigation; employment law; commercial property; corporate & commercial; intellectual property; information technology & e-commerce; inheritance & probate disputes; property litigation; GDPR advisory and charity law. The firm has been part of the Gloucestershire community for…

View company details

Leave a Reply

The support and networking opportunities that the Chamber offered to me as director of a new business really appealed. The board and members I spoke to seemed really interested in my business.

Alastair James Roberts ACII
Alastair James Insurance Brokers

 

Becoming a member

The Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce represents the interests of thousands of local businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions. Our members range from small shops and local business groups to leading industry associations and large corporations. They all share one thing in common—they count on the Chamber to create opportunities and to improve the local business environment.

JOIN THE CHAMBER