Flexible working in the future???

Below are three links you need!

  1. Our panel discussion on Flexible Working which took place in July 2021.
  2. A link to the Government proposals
  3. A link to the consultation document

Do not be upset withthe legislation you get if you don’t take the opportunity to have your say now! The closing date for consultation is 1st December 2021.

As you may be aware, the government have now released their consultation paper on flexible working.

Originally, flexible working was only available to parents, with children under the age of 18, who wanted to work either from a different location or different hours. It was a permanent change to their contract of employment, and the legislation gave people the right to request that flexible working, but didn’t oblige employers to grant that request. It also set out parameters, timeframes, in which employers have to respond, and also quite a prescriptive process, which should be followed. Obviously, employers could choose to go above, and beyond that process, to respond more quickly, to give more people access to request flexible working, but that framework was there and in place.

What then happened, was that the restriction on working parents was lifted, and all employees with more than 26 weeks, that’s six months of service, were given the right to request flexible working. And it’s been like that for a few years now.

What is now proposed, and this is following on from the 2019, ‘good work plan’, is that all employees, have the right, to request flexible working, from day one of employment.

Flexible working includes work location, working hours, flexible hours and part time working.

Over the last 18 months a lot of employers have realised that working from home is a thing which can work; their employees will continue to deliver. Work location has become less of an issue than it was previously, but there are still some jobs, where people need to be physically at work. There are still some teams, where people need to work together, and there are definitely some employers, who still need people in work. That’s aside from, manufacturing jobs, shop retail jobs and hospitality jobs, hospital staff and doctors where obviously people can’t work from home in those positions. Yes, there is more video work being done online, and online consultations. But as a general rule, people are trying to be together more.

The consultation, which has open to today, Thursday, the 23rd of September, 2021 is consulting with employers, employees, anybody else that feels they want to have a say, about scrapping that 26 week rule. So that from day one of employment, somebody can apply for flexible working.

That may mean that they want to change the hours that they work, and instead of being full-time, they may go part-time. Instead of working in the office, they may want to work from home, either full time or hybrid – some of the time at home, some of the time in the office. It may be that they want to do a job share. It may be that they want to completely change the hours in which they work.

The reasons that employers can currently rely on for turning down flexible requests, is going to be paired back so things that employers have been able to rely on, in the past, they are no longer going to be able to rely on in the future when saying no to a request for flexible working.

In addition to that, carers are going to be given access to one weeks, unpaid leave, per year. I’ve got less of an issue about that. We know generally that, parents have up to four weeks, per year, per child, that they can take in parental leave. It is unpaid but most parents don’t take it. I suspect that most carers won’t take it, but knowing that it’s there, in case they need it, may be of benefit. I have to question, whether in that case, one week would be enough? I feel like the government, have got the right aims in mind and they’re trying to encourage employers to be more flexible. They’re trying to give more people access to the workplace, but I honestly don’t believe that this legislation is the right way to do it. I’ve had a flexible team for many years. My first employees, were all on zero hours contracts. They were able to come and do some work, send off some emails, do some ironing, when they waited for people to respond, come back on shift in the afternoon, do a couple more hours, deliver the work that they needed to do, and that was the way in which I grew my business. So, zero hours, working from home, flexibility… it worked for the employees. They still had proper contracts of employment, they were still entitled to benefits: holidays, sick pay, all of the same policies and procedures as other employees would be entitled to, but that flexibility came from me, being a good employer.

While I recognise, that not everybody understands what they can do, I think that this should be an initiative, I think it should be a programme and a quality standard; I absolutely, hand on heart, do not believe, that every employer should have to give, every employee the right to request, and potentially, the right to work flexibly, from day one of employment. I actually think, the day one of employment, is a red herring, as well. There are some businesses, that they need people in the office, Monday to Friday, nine to five, because that’s when their clients need them. There are some businesses that need people, and will hire people, to work a night shift, from 6:00 PM till 6:00 AM. What they can’t then work with, is the employee that gets the job, because they’re absolutely qualified to do it, Who then says, “Oh, yes, but I only want to work till midnight.” That wasn’t the basis on which the job was advertised. That’s not the basis, on which the contract was offered- that doesn’t fit in with the shifts available; it doesn’t set fit in with the way, in which, the business is working.

It is not right for employers to be put in what I see, as an untenable situation, where on the one hand they’ve made a job offer to the right person, for the right reasons; and on the other hand, you’re enabling that employee, from the first day that they joined the business, to walk in and say, “Oh, well, I no longer want to do that shift, I now want to do this shift. And actually, you have to take my request seriously.” I think is really, really wrong.

After over 25 years of HR experience, I know the majority of the people will not take the mick, but there are some people, who make it a habit of going around, and I’ve had to deal with these people, where suddenly they’re claiming, “Oh, well I can’t my job, because I’ve got mental health issues.” Well, you took the job, you knew what the hours were, you’ve said that you want more money, you’ve said that you want more shifts and that’s the basis on which you’ve been hired; that’s the basis on which the contract’s been given.

I do recognise that over time, people’s situations can change, but it doesn’t change day one. It doesn’t, usually, change month one. And very often, it doesn’t even change year one. Sometimes it does, sometimes circumstances are such, but that’s when there needs to then be a conversation, not an employee saying, “By law, you have to give me, the hours that I want, the work location that I want, the shift patterns that I want.” There is no question in my mind, this is going to be held by employees, against employers. For employers, it’s another noose around their neck, at a time when employers really need the flexibility to grow their businesses.

Yes, it may open up opportunities for some workers, but if that’s not the basis on which the employer has offered the job and is running their business, is it really fair? Is it really appropriate, that somebody can come in and say, “I demand,” “My right is,” “And if you don’t do it, you’re going to have to pay me £10,000 or I’ll take you to an employment tribunal,” “I know my rights.” And to be fair to that person, it will be their right.

I’m not against flexible working. Up until, 18 months ago, most of my team worked flexibly; whether it was ten to two, four days a week; whether it was Monday, Wednesday, Friday, full days; whatever it was, there was flexibility. Even now, I have a member of my team, who will finish early on Fridays during winter, and make up their contracted hours during the rest of the week. But that comes from conversation, that comes from ensuring that I’ve got cover through the rest of my staff on a Friday afternoon, to enable, that one employee, to go off. If all of my staff demanded, that they wanted to finish at lunchtime on a Friday, what do my clients do? How does that work? Yes, they may be doing their contracted hours, but I’ve then got nobody on the phone, and the clients will then become irate, I will then lose business, losing business then means that I can’t employ staff. I can’t employ any staff, if I lose business…. it’s a catch 22.

I do not believe that this legislation is the right way to proceed.

What I am asking you to do, is to read the legislation. The consultation is open until the 1st of December ….. so please, if you have an opinion on this, make sure that your opinion is heard.

If you want to hear a number of people discussing this subject? Back in July- I hosted, a round table with Fiona Mendel, of Seddons, who is an employment law expert; with Richard Wear, of Interfacio, who is a business owner with a team and recruits for other businesses; Elizabeth Chapman, of EC Appointments, she also came to the table and said, “Yes, people absolutely want the flexibility to be able to work from home, to be able to leave early, to pick up the children from school- but actually, they still need to be able to work the hours that the employers want them to work.”; the next member of my panel was Barry Kaye of Telcoswitch. He runs a team of one hundred IT technicians, support and development people. They help people to work from home through their technology, but even then he needed the team to be in the office most of the time, so that they learn from each other, so that people could train others up, so that the line managers can actively manage, for the wellbeing of the staff. And that’s something, that we’ve seen massive talk about. And while some people, will benefit from being at home, others, will benefit from being in the office. The final member of my panel was Andrew Rhodes of Sobell Rhodes Accountancy who have moved their whole workforce to hybrid working.

I’m in favour of flexible working, but don’t make it legislation.

If you’re interested, I’ve put a link below so you can access the panel discussion which took place in July. It’s also on our YouTube Channel, so there’s lots of ways you can access that if you’re interested in listening to it. Obviously, at that time, we didn’t have the detail. The consultation is open now, there is information available and I’ve put those links below as well. Go and educate yourself. Don’t get frustrated, by legislation that is dumped on you. If you haven’t taken the opportunity to educate yourself, and to have your say, this is going to be really important. As many voices need to be heard as possible; as many opinions need to be sought as possible; in order for this legislation to be written well – in a way that supports employers, as well as, supporting employees.

Have your say.

Thank you!

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