Right to request flexible working has been extended to all employees

As of yesterday the right to request flexible working has been extended to all employees in the UK.

In Scotland, this means more than 2.5 million workers will now have a right to request flexible working (provided they have worked in their organisation for at least 26 weeks). Prior to this only parents with children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled), and those with certain caring responsibilities had the right to request flexible working.

The right to request is only that. Employers can still refuse a request but must have a sound business argument for doing so. Flexible working requests are a permanent change to working conditions and can include part-time working, compressed hours, job sharing, and homeworking etc. Despite many employers having a flexible working policy the uptake of flexible working in many workplaces is low, and is almost non-existent in more senior positions.

Lack of flexible working is one of the key causes of the gender pay gap. Women are more likely to have caring responsibilities for children, sick relatives, disabled people, or older people, and are therefore keen to secure flexible working in order to balance work with caring responsibilities. However, many women are afraid of what will happen to their career path if they try to work part-time, or ask to work flexibly, because they see few role models at senior levels doing this. There is also a perception that part-time workers are seen as uncommitted, unambitious, and unproductive. In many sectors, and for most job roles, it is extremely rare for jobs to be advertised on a part-time basis. This can act as a barrier to women seeking progression and promotion, and to applying for jobs in specific fields for which they are skilled.

However, for employers there are a number of benefits to providing good flexible working practices. Recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that when employers adopted flexible working practices there was a ‘positive impact on staff motivation and morale’ and importantly it helped to retain valuable skills and talent that would otherwise be lost to the business.

Perhaps the new regulation will support a change in attitude towards flexible working and challenge the rigid orthodox 9-5 working culture in Scotland and the UK. However, the extension to this statutory right must be administered and monitored effectively in the workplace so as not to have a detrimental impact on any individuals or groups of workers.

Acas have produced a code of practice to help employers administer flexible working requests and to make sure they consider the business benefits to supporting individual requests.

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