Legal 101

Flexible working and the UK's 4-day working week

Amber AkhtarAmber Akhtar
Last updated on:
February 3, 2022
Published on:
January 19, 2022

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What is Flexible working?

Flexible working involves changing an employee's time of work, location and working hours.

How can employee make a Flexible working request?

Under the provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA), in order for employees to make a flexible working request under the statutory scheme, to change their location hours and time of work, they must have at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment. Employers may refuse, but refusal can only be for 1 of the 8 reasons as set out in the ERA:

  1. Extra costs that will be a burden on the business;
  2. Work cannot be reorganised among other staff;
  3. People cannot be recruited to do the work;
  4. Flexible working will negatively affect quality of work;
  5. Flexible working will negatively affect performance;
  6. The business’ ability to meet customer demand will be negatively affected;
  7. There is a lack of work to do during the proposed working times; or
  8. The business is planning structural changes.

What is the new Flexible working Bill?

In June 2021, the new Flexible Working Bill was introduced to parliament to propose all workers have a legal right to flexible working from day one of employment, rather than needing 26 weeks’ continuous employment. The government launched a consultation ‘making flexible working the default’ which sets out 5 proposals to the current framework and provides an idea of what may be the outcome:

  1. Making the right to request flexible working a ‘day one’ right, which means from the first day of employment. This means the employee could make a flexible working request to work from home on their first day on the job.
  2. Making any necessary changes to the 8 business reasons for refusing a request to work flexibly and to identify if they all remain valid.
  3. Requiring the employer to suggest alternative solutions if they plan to refuse a request.
  4. Allowing employees to make more than one request in 12 months.
  5. Making employees aware of their right to request a temporary flexible working arrangement.

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How are businesses adapting to COVID-19?

In addition to flexible working hours businesses are adapting how they operate to adapt to changing needs as a result of COVID-19, alongside improvements in technology and the UK infrastructure. As such, employees can benefit from more flexible working arrangements, including:

Hybrid Working: this can take several forms, the role may be fully remote (at home or at another location within the UK) or it could be the role is remote with occasional office attendance or alternatively the role is based in the office with remote working allowed.

Part-time: the number of hours may be reduced or structured differently allowing them to be completed over fewer days or outside the traditional 9-5 hours.

Term-time Working: includes hours only during the term-time, allowing parents to have a greater work life balance.

Self-rostering: this allows the employee to manage their own hours based around their personal needs in line with a work roster which is devised to ensure business needs are met.

Job Share: two people are recruited to carry out one role.

4 day working week: In 2020 the UK considered bringing in a 4-day working week to create a better working environment and to move away from the 8-hour working day, 5 days a week.

Has the UK adopted the 4-day working week?

30 UK firms have agreed to work a 4-day working week for the same salary as part of a 6-month pilot which began on 19 January 2022. The trial aims to see if it will create a better work-life balance working the same number of hours in a 4-day week in comparison to a 5-day week. The trial is being led by 4 Day Week Global and although campaigners are calling for a reduction in working days, critics have warned it may lead to more stress as employees attempt to complete more work within fewer hours.

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The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.

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