The Future of UK Work-family Rights: The Case for More Flexible Working


  • Michelle Weldon-Johns Abertay University



Flexible working, Work-family rights, Covid-19, working mothers, care


The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted both the significant impacts that the UK lockdown rules have had for working women with caring responsibilities, and the potential of flexible working practices to redefine the ways in which people work. This paper will first examine the current UK right to request flexible working and its limitations particularly: the requirement for 26 weeks continuity of employment; the wide discretion that employers have to refuse such requests; the lack of ability to challenge employer’s decisions; and the limited ability to make subsequent requests and/or to make temporary changes. The paper will then critically examine the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s consultation ‘Making Flexible Work the Default’, which addresses the some of these concerns, namely, to change it to a day-one right to request. This examination will consider whether a greater shift to flexible working as the default position, and a redefining of working practices and the work-life paradigm, can have a positive impact for working persons, especially those with caring responsibilities and/or other work-life conflicts. In particular, the paper will critically analyse whether a societal shift to more flexible working can redress the impact of the pandemic for working women with caring responsibilities. In doing so, the paper will reflect on whether this shift represents a challenge to the traditional unburdened worker norm or whether it will continue to reinforce traditional gender roles. Further areas for reform and development will also be identified, including enhanced rights for working fathers and a recognition of new and emerging areas of work-life conflict, such as Menopause in the Workplace, as highlighted by the Women and Equalities Commission’s inquiry on this topic.