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The future of flexible work

Report type
Research and reports
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The government should:  

Avoid a class divide and strengthen all workers’ rights to access genuine flexible working including predictable hours by introducing: 

1.     a legal duty on employers to consider which flexible working arrangements are available in a role and publish these in job advertisements, with the new postholder having a day one right to take up the flexible working arrangements that have been advertised. If an employer does not think that any flexible working arrangements are possible, they should be required to set out the exceptional circumstances that justify this decision.  

2.     a day one right to request flexible working for all workers, with the criteria for rejection mirroring the exceptional circumstances set out above. Workers should have a right to appeal and no restrictions on the number of flexible working requests made.  

Act to eliminate one-sided, false ‘flexibility’ that is driven by employers through: 

3.     abolishing zero-hours contracts by giving workers the right to a contract that reflects their regular hours, at least four weeks’ notice of shifts and compensation for cancelled shifts. 

Take steps to ensure that flexible workers do not experience worse terms and conditions or negative impacts on their health and wellbeing through: 

4.     introducing greater access to workplaces, including to home workers, for trade unions and strengthening collective bargaining rights. The best way to ensure fair flexibility for workers is through collective action.  

5.     ratifying the International Labour Organisation’s Home Work Convention[1].

6.     introducing a statutory right for employees and workers to disconnect from their work so as to create “communication free” time in their lives. 

Introduce new legislative protection and statutory guidance relating to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to recruit and manage people by: 

7.     amending employment and data protection legislation and provide for statutory guidance to ensure that no unlawful discriminatory decisions can be made using artificial intelligence (AI), secure appropriate work/home boundaries and privacy rights, and guarantee transparency and explainability in relation to technology at work (see the TUC's AI manifesto for proposals in full). 

8.     introducing a statutory duty to consult trade unions in relation to the deployment of high-risk AI and automated decision making (ADM) systems in the workplace. 

9.     introducing a comprehensive and universal right to human review of decisions made by AI in the workplace which arehigh-risk[2], as well as an express statutory right to in person engagement in relation to decisions made in the workplace which are high-risk. Employees and workers should have a right to insist that they can interact with a human being rather than a machine or algorithm when high-risk decisions are being made about them. 

Government should also set out a strategy for the future of flexible work that clarifies the role that flexible working can play in building a fairer recovery from the pandemic, promoting equality for workers, benefiting local communities and the environment. Any flexible work strategy must also include managing the impact of increased remote working on sectors impacted by lower levels of office-based staff such as transport and retail and the workers whose jobs rely on this.


Employers do not need to wait for legislative change in making genuine flexible work the default in their workplaces and ensuring that all workers have the opportunity to benefit from positive flexibility that helps them to balance work and home life. In order to achieve this employers should: 

1.     Adopt flexibility by default. Employers should consider what flexibility is available in different roles and ensure this is included in all job adverts going forward. The advert should set out the types of flexibility available rather than include a generalised statement.  Current employees should have the opportunity to access the same flexibility as well. Flexibility could also include predictable hours and greater notice of hours. 

2.     Consult with staff and their trade unions. Employers may face challenges in balancing increased flexibility with organisational needs. The best way to manage this is to consult with trade unions on any changes to and monitoring of flexible work. Employers should consult on what workers experiences have been like during the pandemic and what flexibility they would like as we come out of the pandemic. Steps must be taken to ensure the benefits of flexibility during the pandemic are not lost but that negative experiences are addressed.  Employers should continue to consult with staff in the future as views expressed now, at a unique time in the pandemic, may change. Therefore, workers should have the opportunity to change their flexible working arrangements. 

3.     Review existing flexible work policies. Following consultation, employers should review existing provision for flexible working and publish new or amend flexible work policies. This should be done with recognised trade unions.  

4.     Provide training in managing flexible working. Employers should provide training to line managers to support effective and equitable management of staff who work flexibly including remote workers. 

5.     Ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all those working remotelyEmployers should not only meet regulatory health and safety obligations, but also promote decent work practices and standards agreed with the workforce. Employers should conduct risk assessments for those working from home. These should include both physical and mental health, including the impact of isolation on the mental health and wellbeing of homeworkers.   

6.     Provide necessary equipment for home working. Employers should provide and maintain the equipment necessary for home workers to work safely and effectively and provide the training needed for a person to do their job remotely. Employers must ensure reasonable adjustments are provided to disabled workers regardless of their work location or pattern.  

7.     Ensure fairness. Training should be offered to line managers to support effective and equitable management of staff who work flexibly including remote workers and progression, participation in training and retention rates should be monitored. 

8.     Ensure technology works for the benefit of all. There should be genuine and active consultation with unions and workers before new technologies are introduced. We encourage all employers to adopt the values we set out in our AI manifesto (Dignity at Work and the AI Revolution when considering the use of AI to manage people. No new technology should be introduced that infringes workers' right to privacy, breaches data protection legislation, or has a negative impact on their physical or mental health, or their safety and technology must not be used to make discriminatory and unlawful decisions about people at work. All workers shouldhave a right to human review of decisions made by AI in the workplace which arehigh-risk and the right to insist that they can interact with a human being rather than a machine or algorithm when high-risk decisions are being made about them.  

9.     Promote clear work-life boundaries. Employers should respect the importance of clear work-home life boundaries and flexible working should not result in worker intensification, for example working excessive hours or not taking sick leave. Workers must have the right to disconnect from work and have “communication free” time in their lives to establish a decent work-life balance and appropriate boundaries between work and personal life, including when working from home and in relation to use of digital devices. Employers should negotiate right to disconnect policies with trade unions. 

10.   Ensure access to trade unions. Unions must have access to all workers, regardless of where, when and how theywork,and all workers must be able to access the support of a union at work. Union reps who work from home should not be prejudiced against in their ability to carry out union duties and activities and access necessary facilities. 

11.   Monitor implementation. Employers should ensure their approach to flexible working is effectively promoting equality through carrying out workforce monitoring to highlight any differences of experience or outcome between flexible workers and other staff. In particular, employers should monitor: 

  • pay 
  • progression  
  • access to training and development opportunities  
  • recruitment  
  • retention  
  • discipline and grievance  

Employers should disaggregate this data for different equality groups and consider it when looking at what steps need to be taken to close gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps.    

Trade unions 

Trade unions should: 

12.   work with employers to review flexible working policies and practices and should negotiate for increased access to flexible working and for the protections outlined above, for example equipment for home working. Trade unions are best placed to ensure the needs of employers and preferences of staff are reconciled through constructive dialogue and negotiation.

13.   train reps in negotiating for flexible work policies and supporting members with flexible working requests. Unions should train reps in organising hybrid workforces, where members may be spread across different locations and working different hours.  

14.   monitor the impact of flexible working and negotiate for any necessary changes in the future. 

[1] ILO   Home Work Convention, 1996 (No. 177) available at:  

[2] Any decision making by AI in the context of the employment relationship, particularly with the potential for legal effects, is likely to be high risk. The TUC is calling for sector specific guidance on the meaning of "high-risk". Examples of potential AI decision making include decisions as varied as those relating to recruitment, ratings, disciplinary and capability decisions and even termination of employment. 


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