Tesco has recently announced that it will offer the right to request flexible working as a day 1 right to all of its employees. As an employer, Tesco already has a large number of employees working part-time and / or under other flexible working arrangements. Their recent announcement means employees can request to move to more flexible ways of working (part-time, compressed hours, adjusting start and finish times, term-time, flexi-time etc.) from day 1 of their employment rather than having to have 26 weeks continuous service, as per the current legal position. Tesco’s accompanying press release sets out its commitment to embracing a flexible working approach, recognising the importance of being able to have a conversation about flexible working from day one, or even prior to starting employment, to help its employees maintain a work life balance.

Tesco’s timing is interesting. The government has long since been planning changes to the right to request flexible working – indeed offering employees the right to request flexible working from day 1 of employment was contained in its election manifesto in 2019. Upcoming changes also include allowing employees the ability to make two flexible working requests each year rather than one, speeding up the process so that employers will need to respond to any requests within 2 months and employers will need to consult with the employee before they can reject a request. However, whilst the legislation to bring in these changes has now been passed (albeit the right to request from day 1 needs a separate supporting regulation), a government press release states that the changes are unlikely to come into effect until summer 2024.

In making the move to offer day 1 rights to employees now, Tesco appears to have decided it has waited long enough. As the news headlines continue to highlight the difficulties many employers are facing in attracting talent, you can see that a push by Tesco to demonstrate its commitment to flexibility makes good business sense. Post-pandemic, flexibility is all the rage and if employers want to appeal to the widest pool of applicants, then a focus on flexibility can only help. And of course, whilst flexible working is often synonymous as a solution for working parents, an employer who can offer a range of flexible working arrangements will be attractive to a wider demographic – including the much talked about over 50s.

It will be interesting to see if more employers follow Tesco’s lead and make the right to request flexible working a day 1 right ahead of the legislation taking effect. And might we start to see employers take this further? The reforms to flexible working are not the only changes to employment rights that are on the stocks. Unpaid carers’ leave and the right to neonatal care leave and pay are also now enshrined in law but have yet to be implemented. Will we start to see employers looking to voluntarily introduce those rights as well in a bid to enhance their employee proposition? In reality, many employers may already offer these benefits through their compassionate leave policies so this could be an opportunity to crystallise such rights without having to make significant policy changes.

If, as an employer, you do want to bring in changes early, it will be important to keep track of the provisions contained in the new legislation to make sure that, when the new laws come into force, your policies reflect the new legal position. In the meantime, Acas is currently consulting on an updated Code of Practice on handling flexible working requests which will provide useful guidance for employers when it is finalised. The consultation closes on 6 September 2023 and can be found here.