The right to request flexible working in the UK is a step closer to becoming law

Employees could soon be backed by law to request more flexible working conditions. Credit: PA

Employees hoping for a shift towards a right to ask for more flexible working are a step closer to seeing it enshrined in law.

Peers have supported moves to give employees the right to request flexible working - such as working from home or a four-day working week - from their first day in a job.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is a “very welcome starting point and not an end point” for reforming working conditions, according to Labour.

The measures are supported by the government and received an unopposed second reading in the House of Lords.

Under the current rules, a person who has 26 weeks of continuous service with their employer can request a change to their working hours, times, or location.

They are also required to explain the effect of the change on their employer and can only make one request in a 12-month period.

The Bill seeks to amend existing legislation to allow employees to make two requests within a 12-month period, and to no longer force them to explain the impact on their employer and require consultation before an application is refused.

Both the Conservatives and Labour committed to make flexible working the default in their 2019 election manifestos.

The Bill, originally introduced by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East), has already cleared the House of Commons.

What's driving the working from home backlash?

A global shift toward working from home was one of the major legacies of the pandemic, when lockdowns forced companies to suddenly adapt to remote working.

But not everyone is a fan.

Remote work perks have been enthusiastically adopted in many industries, but there has also been a backlash from major business figures.

Outgoing Twitter CEO and space mogul Elon Musk has repeatedly bashed the concept of working from home, describing it as "morally wrong".

In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, the billionaire criticised the expectation that service industry employees do not work from home while others could.

Lord Alan Sugar has previously attacked flexible working. Credit: PA

"Get off the goddamn moral high horse with the work-from-home bull****," he said.

Business magnate and The Apprentice boss Lord Alan Sugar has also criticised flexible working, saying he is "sick" of the working from home culture and calling those who worked remotely during the pandemic "a bunch of lazy layabouts."

Backbencher MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has blamed working from home Whitehall employees for a “culture of wastefulness” that he wants to address.

In 2022, the then-minister for government efficiency was criticised for leaving “condescending” notes on the desks of civil servants who were not in the office.

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi. Credit: PA

But the MP who proposed the bill, Yasmin Qureshi, has publicly voiced her support.

"Flexible working is no longer a perk, conceived during a once-in-a-lifetime health event; it’s not a ‘nice-to-have’ but a necessity – especially for women," the Labour MP for Bolton South East wrote in an online article for Stylist.

She said she had spoken to carers, pregnant women, and parents of young children about the impact flexible working would make to their lives.

"This bill provides real support for employees new and old and poses the opportunity to change perceptions of what flexible working means – it is much more than just working from home."

UK companies trial four-day working week

Currently, more than a hundred UK companies have signed up for a four-day working week, including Atom Bank and global marketing company Awin.

Atom Bank released a statement 10 months into trialing the four-day week, writing: "Despite there being recent headlines that have called the idea of a four-day week into question, we’re pleased to say that we’ve experienced great success with our trial."

They found that an overwhelming majority of employees were able to get all of their work done and their customer service score rose.

"We believe most organisations can move to a four-day week and we hope Atom’s experiences will encourage more businesses to make the shift permanently.”

Speaking for Labour in the House of Lords on Friday, business spokeswoman Baroness Blake of Leeds said flexible working should not be considered a “job perk” but an unemployment right.

She said: “We see this bill as a very welcome starting point and not an end point.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg is said to have placed "condescending" notes on the desk of civil servants not in the office. Credit: PA

The Earl of Minto, a business minister, said: “We will be removing the 26-week qualifying period and making the right to request flexible working available to all employees from the very first day of their employment.”

He added: “These changes represent a timely, sensible and proportionate update to the right to request flexible working and reflect what many employers already do.

“The changes will particularly support those who need to balance their work and personal life who may find it hard to participate in the labour market.”

The Bill will undergo further scrutiny at a later date and is on course to become law in the coming weeks.

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