Right to request flexible working not working

Posted On: 
17th April 2019

Nearly 5 years since the statutory right to request flexible working was extended to employees with 26 weeks’ continuous employment, new research from CMI shows levels of awareness and understanding of the legislation amongst UK managers remain low.

A national survey of just under 950 managers shows that only three quarters (74%) were aware that employees have a statutory right to request flexible working.  

When asked what the statutory right comprised:

  • 55% of managers think an employee has a statutory right to ask their employer to change the times when they are required to work after 26 weeks of employment;
  • 50% think an employee has a right to ask to change the hours they are required to work; and
  • 32% think an employee has a right to ask to change where they are required to work.

Only a quarter (26%) of managers knew that the statutory right allows employees to request a change in hours, time or location of work.

Rob Wall, CMI Head of Policy said:

“Flexible working is good business sense: it helps attract and retain talent, improves employee engagement and boosts productivity. It can also help close the gender pay gap, which alone should be a wake-up call for the thousands of businesses that have seen their pay gap increase over the last 12 months.

“Line managers are key to making flexible working work. This means managers need to be equipped to help staff work flexibly and empowered to champion flexible working and call out bad practice. The fact that only 1 in 4 managers fully understand the existing right to request legislation shows the gap between the rhetoric around flexible working and the reality.

“The truth is that legislation can only take us so far in terms of shifting behaviours and attitudes. To reap the full benefits of flexible working, employers need to show genuine commitment and develop data-driven action plans which make flexible working a reality. At CMI, we think these could be part of the wider Action Plans that organisations should be developing on how they plan to close their gender pay gaps.”

The statutory right to request flexible working allows a qualifying employee to apply to their employer for a change to their terms and conditions of employment relating to their hours, times or location of work. Initially, the right applied to certain employees with parental or caring responsibilities. However, the Children and Families Act 2014 extended the right to all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous employment. Where an employee makes a request, the employer must consider this in a “reasonable manner”. Requests can be refused where there is a clear business reason to do so.