The UK government has backed the passing of a law that will give all workers the legal right to request a predictable working pattern
The aim is to tackle ‘one-sided flexibility’ which is said to unfairly favour businesses where workers are often expected to be on standby for work which is not guaranteed and to be available at very short notice when required. The Bill, would give eligible workers a right to ask their employers to consider requests for predictable working patterns. It is proposed that the right should apply to workers and employees, including those on zero-hour contracts and agency staff.
This is the latest Private Members Bill to take up elements of the now defunct Employment Bill.
In support of the Bill, Labour Markets Minister Kevin Hollinrake stated that “employers having one-sided flexibility over their staff is unfair and unreasonable. This Bill will ensure workers can request more predictable working patterns where they want them, so they can get on with their daily lives.”
Employees and agency workers would be able to make a maximum of two statutory applications during any 12-month period. The Bill also states that no statutory application to can be made if another statutory application to vary terms and conditions (e.g. a flexible working request) is proceeding.
In a process which is anticipated to mirror that of a flexible working request, employers would be able to reject an application by relying on one of the prescribed statutory reasons. The scope for a request would include a request to work on set days or to move onto a permanent contract.
How will this benefit workers?
By having a statutory right to request that their employers provide them with a more predictable working pattern, it is hoped that workers will have greater income security and consequently a better work-life balance.
Amongst other policies the government is supporting, such as providing millions of employees with a day one right to request flexible working, and a greater say over when, where, and how they work, the passing of this Bill will help to protect vulnerable workers and level the playing field between businesses and workers. It is also hoped that it will also result in increased workforce participation.
Unlike flexible working however, the right to make a predictable working pattern request will not be a day one right, with workers and agency workers required to have a minimum period of service of 26 weeks before becoming eligible.
What does this mean for employers?
The Bill only provides for the right to ask for a more predictable working pattern, not an automatic right to more predictability. However if the Bill becomes law, employers who rely on flexibility from their workforce will almost certainly receive requests for predictability. It follows that such businesses will need to become familiar with the new regime and establish policies and procedures to deal with these requests.
Employers will be able to refuse requests on specific grounds, for example, the burden of additional costs to implement changes, or being unable to fulfil employees’ requests due to insufficient work at their proposed work times.
It is not yet clear what penalties will be imposed on employers who fail to comply with their obligations but they are likely to be similar to those for breaches of the flexible working procedures i.e. limited punitive damages and or claims for wider compensation if individuals suffer detriment or dismissal for having made a request or by bringing proceedings.
While the Bill would give further rights to eligible workers, it will inevitably add further red tape to employers who wish to maintain a flexible workforce. Given that many of those businesses will be in the care sector and other service industries where recruitment and retention is already difficult, this might be a hard pill to swallow.
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