Over 20 million employees now have the right to ask their employer for flexible working arrangements after a new law was introduced this week. The initiative means that any employee with more than 26 weeks’ service can request flexible working arrangements, such as a four-day week, telecommuting, job sharing and compressed hours.

In the past only workers with young children or caring responsibilities were permitted the automatic right to request flexible working arrangements. The new law has been introduced in an attempt to modernise the workplace and to make it conducive to achieving a more reasonable work-life balance.

It is worth noting that although all employees now have the right to request flexible working arrangements, employers retain the right to refuse such requests. Employee advocates are encouraging a closer look at the approval process in an effort to ensure that all workers are fairly treated.

Many employers and employees have welcomed the new law; however, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has pointed out that many small businesses already offered a consensual approach to flexible working and that the changes may bring 'negative dynamics' into play and lead to more administration on the part of employers.

“Although many organisations already use flexible working, CIPD research reveals that take-up of some forms of flexible working are still very low – potentially limiting the talent pool of workers that firms are able to recruit from," explains CIPD deputy chief executive Susannah Clements. She added: “If management skills can be raised sufficiently to maximise the upsides of a more flexible workforce, instead of allowing managers to see the new regulations as a threat, this change can help drive increases in productivity and competitiveness for firms and the wider economy.”