The right to flex: could new legislation empower employees?

In our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing we explore new government-led strategies to embed flexible working into the ‘new normal’ and we welcome back the long awaited in-person return of our flagship London conference

Successive surveys from around the world suggest that workers want more flexibility in their working lives after the pandemic. But how much direct power will they have to make it happen?

In the UK, the Government is planning to give employees the right to request flexible working from day one of a new job, according to a new consultation document released on 23 September 2021. Under the present rules, employees cannot request a hybrid working arrangement until six months into a job – and employers have up to three months to make a decision.

Now, the consultation document from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) proposes that employers should respond to such requests more quickly and explain the reasons for refusal, in effect going some way to make flexible work the default working arrangement.

The proposal comes from a wider programme called the Good Work Plan, which begun in 2019; and while it is largely aimed at enabling women, disabled people, parents and carers to balance their professional and personal commitments, it does apply to all employees. The UK Government has already set up a flexible working taskforce, which advice to businesses on returning employees to the office. It is also examining the lasting effects of the pandemic on working habits.

‘The proposal goes some way to make flexible work the default working arrangement…’

The UK is not the only country looking to embed flexible work rights into its legislation. In July,  Greece approved a new labour law which seeks to support flexible work hours, loosen up overtime rules and allow teleworkers to disconnect.

One change detailed is that employees will be able to request to work up to 10 hours a day, offset by fewer hours on other days, so long as their work week remains at 40 hours. Another change is that  employees who are parents or caregivers will have the right to request flexible work arrangements, such as telework or flexible working.

In September 2020, Spain passed a decree to regulate remote working in Spain. Prior to the pandemic, remote work in Spain was relatively unusual and unregulated. The legal framework protects the rights and obligations of employers and employees – at least to some extent – as they continue to work flexibly.

Meanwhile, Finland’s attitude to flexible work has been embedded in its working culture for almost two decades. This is largely thanks to its Working Hours Act, passed in 1996. This Act gives most staff the right to adjust the typical daily hours of their workplace by starting or finishing up to three hours earlier or later. This Act was updated in 2020 and has given full-time employees the right to decide when and where they work for at least half their working hours.

A decade ago, a study by global accounting firm Grant Thornton found that Finland was offering the most flexible working schedules on the planet. Today, it is still leading the field.

London returns

After missing out in 2020, WORKTECH’S flagship London conference is returning to the face-to-face format with a live audience bigger than ever before. The two-day in-person conference will be hosted at the forefront of East London’s regeneration project, in the Export Building at Republic on 16-17 November 2021. Republic is an award-winning hub for education, skills, learning and work, and it is championed as London’s newest creative community.

As well as plentiful opportunities to network with WORKTECH’s global community, the event will include keynote presentations from innovative workplace thinkers and leading companies on lessons learnt through the pandemic. Key themes will include: the future of leadership, the acceleration of technology adoption, and the shift towards people-centric working. Click here to register for an early bird ticket rate.

Copenhagen and Chicago

WORKTECH is also welcoming the return of an in-person WORKTECH21 Copenhagen on 6 October at the Danish Architecture Centre, and the inaugural virtual WORKTECH Chicago conference on 13 October 2021. The Chicago event is free to attend and will include more than 200 delegates from Chicago and surrounding areas with speakers such as JLL and EY.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 22 September 2021.
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