Employees across the UK can now request flexible working hours after the right previously reserved for carers and those looking after children was extended by the government.
As part of the rule change, employees can expect their request to be considered in a reasonable manner by their bosses.
Unions and employment groups have welcomed the move which the Department for
Business, Innovation and Skills said could allow up to 20 million people to ask for the right to work flexibly.
Employees are eligible to request the flexible working hours once they have more than six months’ service with a company.
The change in law comes less than a week after the government promised to ban employers from stopping staff with zero-hours contracts – under which employees’ hours are not guaranteed – seeking extra work elsewhere.
It is expected the extension of flexible working rights will be of particular interest to older workers approaching retirement and to young workers looking for additional training while they work.
“Modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale, and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow,” said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
“It’s about time we brought working practices bang up-to-date with the needs, and choices, of our modern families.”
Business Minister Jo Swinson said that extending the right to request flexible working will help to create a cultural shift towards more modern, 21st century workplaces where working flexibly is the norm.
“Firms that embrace flexible working are more likely to attract and retain the best talent and reap the benefits of a more motivated workforce,” he said.
“Employees will benefit from being able to balance work with other commitments in their lives. It also helps drive a cultural shift where flexible working becomes the norm.”
Businesses have reported benefits to their firms in allowing staff to adopt more flexible working practices.
This includes more than half reporting an improvement in their relationship with their employees and staff motivation, 40 per cent reporting a boost in productivity and 38 per cent seeing a drop in staff absence.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development said the change in the law was recognition of the growing importance of flexible working for both employees and employers.
“Employers increasingly recognise the strong business case for flexible working, including enhanced employee engagement and the attraction and retention of a more diverse workforce,” said the institute’s chief executive Susannah Clements.