Flexible working has attracted a lot of attention since the pandemic when necessary adjustments to working hours and arrangements highlighted that different ways of working can be successful, including in the dental sector.
As it stands, employees with 26 weeks’ or more continuous service have the right to ask their employer to consider a range of flexible working options, such as job-sharing, compressed hours, flexi-time, part-time and term-time working. Home-working is another popular request, although less relevant in the dental sector.
However, there have been calls for flexible working to be a ‘day 1’ right and to effectively be the default. With this in mind, the Making Flexible Working the Default consultation was launched and in the government’s response to it, a number of recommendations were made. In light of the continued focus on flexible working, it is important that employers are open to the possibility and we’ve briefly summarised the current position and also what the future for flexible working may hold.
What are the current rules on flexible working?
- Only employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service can make a request;
- 1 request can be made in any 12 month period;
- requests must be in writing and contain specific information, including the potential effect of their request; and
- employers have 3 months to consider a request, discuss it with the employee (if appropriate) and notify the employee of their decision.
Employers are not obliged to accept requests and they can refuse requests, providing their reason(s) for refusal falls within 8 specific statutory grounds. These grounds include “detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand”, “inability to re-organise work among existing staff” and “insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work”.
What are the new proposals?
The government hasn’t gone as far as supporting giving all employees the right to flexible working. However, it supports giving employees the right to request flexible working from day 1 of their employment. The consultation response also recommends that:
- employees could make 2 flexible working requests within a 12 month period;
- requests should be dealt with within 2 months;
- employees would no longer be required to address how the effects of their request might be dealt with; and
- employers would be required to consider alternatives if the initial request is unworkable.
There is no draft legislation within the government’s response; however the government has given its support to the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill which contains the first three of the above recommendations.
What impact will these changes have?
Even if all the proposals come into force, employers still do not need to accept flexible working requests. There are no proposed changes to the 8 statutory grounds of refusal and it is still only a right to request, not a right to flexible working.
However, these changes would help bring the statutory regime into line with the reality of the current job market. Practices need to consider whether they may risk pushing good staff away by resisting accommodating working patterns which fit with employees’ lives outside of work, whether that be child care commitments, walking the dog at lunch or minimising the amount of commuting required by reducing working days.
Accordingly, there can be benefit to being open to the possibility of some flexible working, both at the point of recruitment and for existing staff and thinking about how different working patterns could work in your practice. Being flexible with staff also assists when looking for flexibility from them, for example to support extended opening hours.