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Flexible working now a legal right for all workers from first day in job | UK News

Employees across the country have today been granted the legal right to request flexible working from the day they enter a new job.

Previously, the right was only applicable if someone had worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more.

The Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 gained Royal Assent in July as Kevin Hollinrake, the business and trade minister, backed the measure for “a happier workforce [which] means increased productivity”.

Flexible working is a broad term but encompasses a different style of work from the conventional 9-5 in the office, and could include adaptations to where someone works, to save them from commuting, for example.

The term and its implementation first came into effect under Tony Blair’s government in the early 2000s where parents of children under six and carers of those under 18 could ask for a flexi working arrangement.

More legislation was introduced, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible working accelerated in terms of “understanding” and the “demand for it”, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said.

Mr Cheese said the new law “stands to benefit millions of people, helping them to balance their work and life commitments and give them more say and more opportunity in where and how they work”.

He said flexibility around time, scheduling and where someone worked could be “transformative” especially for those with health conditions, caring responsibilities or other life choices they wished to make.

He added: “With an ageing population and rising levels of economically inactive people due to ill health, flexible working is more important than ever, and has been shown to support better wellbeing, making it good for individuals as well as organisations.”

Undergound pic for Flexible working lead. Pic: iStock
Workers may request flexible working to avoid commuting. Pic: iStock

As from 6 April, employers have a duty to consult with workers before they can refuse a flexible working request.

Coodes Solicitors listed some reasons why a demand could be rejected, including the arrangement costing the business too much, a negative effect on performance and the inability for the company to hire more team members.

The conciliation service Acas published a new statutory Code of Practice on requests for flexible working alongside guidance, which its chief executive Susan Clews said would “help employers and employees avoid any pitfalls”.

Ms Clews said: “There are many types of flexible working such as part-time working, flexitime, job sharing, staggered hours, hybrid and homeworking. The starting position for businesses should be to consider what may be possible.”

A study of 4,000 workers by campaign group Timewise found that half would consider asking for a flexible pattern of work using the day one right to request in a new job.

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Research by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed found that mothers are twice as likely than fathers to ask for flexible working after parental leave.

Joeli Brearley, chief executive of the group, said: “Mothers are more likely to shoulder the lion’s share of the unpaid labour required to care for children and manage a household.

“As a result, they are more likely to need flexible working. Just three in 10 job adverts offer flexibility, limiting the progression opportunities and earning potential of mothers.”

One in five doctors with long COVID forced to stop working or cut back hours | UK News

Doctors who contracted COVID-19 on the frontline and are still living with the ongoing symptoms of the virus have been left in financial limbo as they struggle to return to work.

The British Medical Association (BMA) found one in five doctors with long COVID had been forced to stop work or significantly cut back on their hours.

Dr Amy Small had been a GP partner in Edinburgh.

She contracted COVID-19 in April 2020 but her symptoms persisted and snowballed.

Dr Small told Sky News: “In the first six months to a year and a half, daily I had awful fatigue to the point I couldn’t eat because my jaw was too sore because chewing made my muscles hurt.

“I had headaches and I had a daily fever for seven months. I still get fevers very easily if my kids catch colds. I had tinnitus, I had awful aches and pains in my body, I was so breathless I couldn’t walk up the stairs without stopping once or twice for many months.”

After six months off work, she eventually lost her job because her condition left her unable to keep up.

“It was devastating, my husband also had long COVID, at the time that I lost my job his pay was halving, my roof was leaking, I had to pay for a kid in full-time nursery and we risked losing everything at that point. I thought we were going to lose our house, we were really facing really really challenging times.”

Dr Amy Small missed months of work after suffering with long COVID
Dr Amy Small missed months of work after suffering with long COVID

The BMA surveyed some 600 doctors, with 48% saying they’ve experienced loss of earnings as a result of long COVID symptoms.

The BMA say those medics need support while they recover.

Professor David Strain, chair of the BMA’s board of science, told Sky News: “We cannot afford to have fully trained, very able staff, not able to do the job they’ve been trained for at this moment, it’s a disaster in a health service that is very short-staffed already.

“There are many doctors who’ve actually retired on health grounds – and feel they’re not able to work at all and that in order to be able to get back to work going forward they need to be given additional support – but there are many others who are way too young to have a retirement plan in place but are too unwell to return.

“They need to be able to be given the financial support to allow them to focus on getting better whilst they’re in this position.”

Dr Small moved to Sheffield where she now works as a part-time GP and for a charity.

She says she’s in a considerably better state than when she first contracted the virus but still has some health complications.

“The symptoms were endless like many others and it comes back now and again.”

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Dr Small says this is far from an issue in the past – long COVID continues to take so much from so many.

“So many of us are still ill, many of us have lost our jobs and their houses and their livelihoods, and they’re not likely to get them back anytime soon so this isn’t a past problem, it’s a very live problem which is going to have ongoing consequences for many years.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Sky News: “Long COVID can have a debilitating impact and we are backing our world-leading scientists with over £50 million to better understand the long-term effects of this virus and make treatments available.

“NHS staff are able to seek support for long COVID from their GP or one of the 100 specialist clinics available nationwide. The NHS has also committed £324 million to support people with ongoing symptoms of long COVID.”

Water company boss blames people working from home for hosepipe ban | UK News

A water company boss has blamed people working from home for a new hosepipe ban. 

South East Water will impose the first hosepipe ban of the summer from Monday, affecting more than two million homes and businesses across Kent and Sussex.

Its chief executive, David Hinton, said in a letter to customers that post-pandemic working from home was a “key factor” behind the ban, as it has “increased drinking water demand”.

File photo dated 23/08/22 of a woman watering her front garden, as a hosepipe ban is set to come in across Kent and Sussex due to a record demand for drinking water, South East Water bosses said.
A woman watering her front garden, as a hosepipe ban is set to come in across Kent and Sussex

He wrote: “Over the past three years the way in which drinking water is being used across the southeast has changed considerably.

“The rise of working from home has increased drinking water demand in commuter towns by around 20% over a very short period, testing our existing infrastructure.”

Mr Hinton also blamed low rainfall since April for leaving water butts empty, as well as pointing to a recent spell of hot weather which he claims led to a spike in demand for drinking water.

“Our reservoir and aquifer stocks of raw water, essential to our water supply but not ready to be used, are in a good position. However, demand for treated mains water, which takes time to process and deliver, was greater than we could meet,” he said.

“Over the past week we have needed to find water to supply the equivalent of an additional four towns the size of Maidstone or Eastbourne every day.”

Greg Clark, the Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, told The Times: “Their only job is to deliver drinking water.

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“But in my constituency, they have run out of water twice in six months – once just before Christmas when we had a cold snap, and now after a small and unexceptional heatwave.

“What they’re describing in terms of people working for home is by no means specific to this area.

“There has been for some time a tendency for people to work more from home. A water company should be able to predict and accommodate for this.”

A spokeswoman for the water regulator Ofwat told The Times: “South East Water must do better to predict and manage operational issues, help customers, and engage with them on what is happening and why.

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“Customers will be asking why, for the second time in six months, their water company is being caught out by the weather.”

South East Water’s Head of Service Management, Steve Andrews, defended the ban, saying it was “introduced to ensure that we can deliver drinking water to all our customers consistently”.

He added: “We want to thank our customers for being mindful of their water use and remind them to continue to use water wisely over the coming weekend.”

Doctor took her own life after working in hospital with ‘toxic environment’ | UK News

The father of a junior doctor who took her own life says action must be taken to change a “toxic environment” at the hospital where she worked.

Dr Ravi Kumar, who also works for the NHS, was speaking ahead of the publication of a report into allegations of bullying at the University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) NHS Trust, one of the largest hospital trusts in England.

The report has also examined claims of threats of disciplinary action against whistleblowers.

Dr Vaishnavi Kumar killed herself in June last year. The 35-year-old had been working at the Queen Elizabeth (QE) Hospital Birmingham.

Her parents say she left a note before taking a lethal overdose.

“She wrote a letter,” her father told Sky News. “She very clearly mentioned that she was doing this because of the QE hospital.”

After taking the overdose she waited three hours to call an ambulance. Her father says that when paramedics arrived “she said under no circumstances was she going to the QE hospital”.

Dr Kumar says his daughter was “bright, fun-loving and compassionate” but things changed soon after she began working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

“She started facing this toxic environment and she started getting a bit more worried and tearful and sometimes when she was coming back from work will say that people are belittling her and demeaning her.

“She used to get very stressed with some consultants when she was doing the handover because of the way they used to treat her during the handover, laughing at her for treatments and things like that.

“And she being a very senior registrar and also quite experienced and well-liked by all the others, that was becoming… it was taking a toll on her.”

Dr Ravi Kumar blames the hospital's 'toxic' environment for his daughter's death
Dr Ravi Kumar blames the hospital’s ‘toxic’ environment for his daughter’s death

‘Each day is a struggle’

Dr Kumar says he hopes the Trust acts on the findings of the report.

“The first thing is to realise, accept that this has happened. The second thing is to find out why it has happened and action be taken” he said.

“It makes me angry and at the same time worried about other junior doctors who are going to follow her.

“Our lives stopped on the 22 June and it’s very hard. Each day is a struggle.

“Now my main worry is to stop it happening to others and that is why I want to bring this forward so people realise that there is a toxic atmosphere”.

The review into UHB has been chaired by Professor Mike Bewick, a former deputy medical director at NHS England, who is now an independent consultant.

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Trust ‘requires improvement’ according to 2021 CQC rating

The Trust employs more than 20,000 people. As well as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham it also operates Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield, and Solihull Hospital.

In 2021 the Care Quality Commission rated the Trust as “requires improvement” and highlighted concerns about patient safety.

A spokesperson for University Hospitals Birmingham said: “Dr Vaishnavi Kumar was a much loved and respected doctor, who was popular with colleagues and patients alike. Her unexpected death was a tragedy and our heartfelt condolences remain with Vaishnavi’s family.

“We have reflected on our response to Vaishnavi’s death, have learnt lessons from this, and are acting on them.

“Dr Kumar wants his daughter’s death to result in improvements in the support offered to all doctors in training and to see a change in the culture of the Trust. We are pleased that he has agreed to work with the Trust on this.”

The Trust said it will respond in full to the findings of the report by Professor Bewick after it has been published.

:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.

‘Major breakthrough’: Most firms say they’ll stick with a four-day working week after successful trial | UK News

The world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week has been hailed a success – with most of the companies involved saying they would continue offering a shorter week.

A total of 61 companies across several sectors in the UK were involved in the pilot, which ran for six months from June last year.

Employers had to make sure there was no reduction in wages for staff who took part in trialling a 32-hour week.

At least 56 out of the 61 firms which took part said they plan to continue with the four-day working week, including The Royal Society Of Biology based in London.

Chief Executive Mark Downs said productivity had increased.

He added: “There’s been a decline in the number of sick days taken during the period of the trial.

“Before the trial, on average, each person would take four or five sick days per year – that’s down to less than two.

“I think it’s a substantial difference.”

Other firms involved in the pilot have had similar experiences.

Research carried out by the University of Cambridge and Boston College found that the number of sick days taken by the 2,900 staff in the trial fell by about two-thirds.

Also, 39% of employees said they were less stressed.

Tessa Gibson, a senior accreditation officer at the Royal Society of Biology, said she would not want to go back to a five-day week – adding: “Weekends can be quite hectic, so it has been quite nice to have that extra day to see your friends and family, and then you get that extra day off during the week to do all your chores or to have that time to relax.

“It has made a big difference to my mental health.”

The COVID pandemic has meant that employers are having to find more flexible working arrangements in order to attract and retain staff, but not all businesses think a four-day week is the solution.

Jay Richards is the co-founder of Imagen Insights, which helps brands gather feedback from young people.

He said a four-day working week often leaves employees feeling like they have to squeeze more work into fewer days.

“I think a four-day week sounds good in principle but in practice how many companies are going to be able to support employees’ wellbeing if they are going from a normal five-day week and cramming that down into four days?

“We do a five-day week but we work 10am to 4pm, we shorten the days so the employees have that work-life harmony but they’re not actually shortening their week, which I think would put more pressure on them.”

The findings of the pilot scheme will be presented to MPs on Tuesday 20 February.