Employees will be able to request the right to work at home from their first day on the job under reforms to be announced this week.
Ministers are set to confirm laws to protect flexible working that were first mooted before the pandemic. Any employee will be able to make the request but the move is particularly aimed at enabling women, disabled people, parents and carers to balance their professional lives with personal commitments.
Under the present rules, employees cannot request a hybrid working arrangement until six months into a job. Employers are obliged to consider the request in a “reasonable manner” and have to make a decision within three months. If the request is refused, the worker may have grounds to take the company to an employment tribunal.
Ministers will confirm the change on Thursday. A government source said: “The business case is compelling. If you’re happy at work you’re less likely to leave, and companies benefit from motivated employees.”
Boris Johnson promised to strengthen flexible working laws in the Tory manifesto in 2019. Since then the pandemic has disrupted traditional working patterns.
This year the government created a flexible working taskforce, which provides advice to businesses managing the return of employees to the office. It is also examining the lasting effects of the pandemic on working habits.
Labour has called for all white-collar employees to be given the absolute right to work from home, something that has been ruled out by the government.
Alex Chisholm, chief operating officer of the civil service, admitted last week that many civil servants would not go back to the office. He said it was “difficult and expensive” to get staff into London for meetings and that flexible working had turned out to be a “huge positive”.