December 16, 2022

Flexible working in social care: is it critical to staff retention?

Flexible working social care

The care sector is not immune from the post-COVID-19 push towards greater flexible working practices. Whilst working from home isn’t an option for frontline staff, pressure is building on the traditional fixed rota, fixed shift, model.

To compete with other sectors, and to avoid more staff moving to agency work, greater flexibility is required, in the number of working hours, when those hours are worked and the duration of shifts.

Whilst this creates a headache for managers creating rotas, they will need to be open to new ways of working and think creatively about how to accommodate as many people as possible.

Proposals to increase flexible working rights

The Government has recently published proposals to update the laws surrounding flexible working. In summary, the proposals are as follows:

  • Making the right to request flexible working a day one right (currently an employee must have been employed for 26 weeks);
  • A new legal duty for employers to consult with employees about alternatives to their flexible working request (currently you only have to consider the specific request made by the employee);
  • Employees would no longer be required to set out how their flexible working request would impact the business;
  • Two flexible working requests could be made in any 12-month period (currently only one is permitted); and
  • Employers would have to respond to flexible working requests within two months (currently, you have three months).

There are no plans to change the eight business reasons that you can currently rely on to lawfully refuse a request for flexible working. However, the new duty to consult about alternatives, will create more dialogue with the employee and a greater exploration of the rationale behind a request being rejected.

When will the changes come into force?

There is currently no set timeframe for implementation but a Private Members’ bill, which the Government has said it is supporting, has passed its second reading and will likely become law early next year.


Although the proposals increase employee rights, they fall a long way short of making flexible working the default for all employees. As the consultation confirms, any future legislation will provide for a “right to request, not a right to have” flexible working.

Prior to implementation you will need to prepare for the changes by:

  1. Updating your flexible working policy
  2. Reviewing and updating your HR processes to accommodate the new rules
  3. Providing managers with training and guidance on how to manage flexible working requests, to avoid the risk of grievances, and constructive unfair dismissal and discrimination claims.

Given the workforce challenges in the sector, flexible working should be embraced where possible to avoid the risk of higher staff attrition rates. A study published by employment charity Working Families indicated that more than half (55%) of working parents would consider leaving their job if they found another which offered greater flexibility.

Need help with flexible working?

For more information or for help with an HR or employment law issue, please contact James Sage

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