Flexible working Bill is on the back burner for now - Hayley Johnson

After the 2019 general election, the newly-formed UK Government announced that it would introduce a new Employment Bill.

The Bill promised to:

Make flexible working the default, unless employers have good reason not to; Extend protection from redundancy of pregnant employees and those who have recently returned from maternity leave; Create a new single enforcement body offering greater protection for workers; Make sure all tips left for workers go to them in full; Introduce a right for all workers to request a more predictable employment contract; Allow parents to take up to 12 weeks' paid leave when their child needs neonatal care; Introduce the right to one week's leave for unpaid carers.

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Two and a half years have passed and none of these measures have been introduced; nor is there a date for when they will be.

Hayley Johnson is a Senior Associate, Morton Fraser

Many assumed the Queen's Speech, on 10 May, would mark the UK Government confirming which elements of the Bill would be brought forward to Parliament. Instead, for the second year in a row, the Bill was notably absent.

When the 2021 Queen's Speech failed to mention the Bill, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it would be introduced when the “time is right, not while the pandemic is ongoing and continuing to affect the economy and labour market in ..unpredictable ways”.

Fast forward a year and no changes originally proposed back in 2019 were included as part of the 38 Bills in the Queen's Speech. The only employment change announced was the introduction of new seafarers' legislation in response to P&O Ferries sacking 800 staff.

Has the Bill been scrapped or is it simply delayed? Here's what we know:

Making flexible working the default: This proposal has already been diluted to a more modest right to request flexible working from day one of employment (rather than six months). Employers won’t be required to publish flexible working policies or specify in job adverts whether flexible working would be considered (both were specified in previous proposals). Consultation on these proposals closed in December 2021. Despite its Queen's Speech omission, it would be surprising if these proposals weren’t further discussed this year against the backdrop of “new normal” flexible working arrangements..

Leave for neonatal care: Consultation on this proposal closed in October 2019 and the UK Government's response to the consultation confirmed they intended to go ahead with this proposal. It is not expected until 2023.

Leave for unpaid carers: The UK Government published some detail on how this would operate in September 2021 but there has been no further progress since.

More recently, it has been reported that the right for workers to retain tips is to be dropped indefinitely. Other measures in the Bill are still to be laid out in detail and consulted upon. Unions and industry groups have expressed disappointment at the omission of the Bill.

Many other high-profile employment rights - such as the proposed introduction of a duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment - have no firm implementation date, raising questions as to whether we are going to see as much progress with employment-related legislation during 2022.

Whilst the Bill seems to be on the back burner for now, forward-thinking employers are unlikely to delay in reviewing how their organisation can be more appealing to retain and recruit staff given the dramatic shift in the labour market towards employees, skills shortages and impact of the "new normal" on what workers want and expect from their workplace.

Hayley Johnson is a Senior Associate, Morton Fraser


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