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Background

Currently, under Part VIIIA of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service have the right to request a change to their working hours, times or location and have that request considered by their employer in line with a statutory Code of Practice. Employers are currently obliged to respond to such flexible working requests within three months.

After making such an application, employees are currently prevented from making another one for the following 12 months. Employees are also currently obliged in their application to explain what effect their request might have on the employer and how to deal with that.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties pledged to expand flexible working rights in their 2019 manifestos. The December 2019 Queen’s Speech included reference to an Employment Bill that would have aimed to “make flexible working the default”. The Bill has not since been introduced.

A Government consultation in 2021 sought feedback on proposals to reform the right to request flexible working, including making it a day one right, reducing the deadline for an employer response, allowing more than one request per year and requiring the employer to suggest alternatives if refusing a request. The response to the consultation has not yet been published.

Two previous Private Members’ Bills in the 2017-19 and 2019-21 sessions aimed to expand flexible working rights – neither received a second reading.

The Bill

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, Bill 22 of the 2022-23 session, was introduced on 15 June 2022 by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi as a Private Member’s Bill, presented to Parliament through the ballot procedure. It is listed for second reading on 28 October 2022.

What does the Bill do?

The Bill would amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to change the current right to request flexible working in the following ways:

  • removing the requirement for employees to explain in their applications what effect they think it will have on the employer,
  • allowing employees to make two flexible working requests per 12 months instead of the one currently allowed,
  • requiring employers to consult with the employee before being allowed to refuse an application, and
  • reducing the deadline for an employer decision on flexible working requests from three months to two months.

The Bill would apply to England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland where employment law is a devolved matter.

Commentary

The Bill’s sponsor Yasmin Qureshi was quoted on PoliticsHome explaining her hopes for the Bill ahead of its introduction, saying:

This Bill will ensure more people can access flexible working and act as a catalyst to address the barriers faced by women, the disabled, carers, and older people.

Multiple sclerosis charity the MS Society has also expressed its support publicly for the Bill in an article welcoming its introduction alongside the Carer’s Leave Bill 2022-23.


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