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New Flexible Working Rules

The Government’s new flexible working rules came into force on 6 April 2024. 

Previous provisions were considered by the Government to be too rigid, with certain restrictions perceived as a barrier to employees wanting to make a flexible working request.  The following changes have been introduced, by the new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 and the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

  • The Request:

An employee who is making a flexible working request no longer has to explain what effect the change will have on their employer and how this can be managed.  The employee can now simply declare how they would like to work flexibly, and when.

  • Increase in the number of requests:

There has been an increase in number of requests that an employee can make to work flexibly, from one to two requests per year, in order to give greater flexibility to employees. 

  • Consultation:

Employers are now required to consult with an employee before refusing a request to work flexibly. ACAS has published a draft Code of Practice on handling requests in a reasonable manner.  Consultation on the draft Code ended at the start of September, and we are now waiting for the final Code to be published.  The Code will encourage employers to consider requests with an open mind, and not with the assumption that the answer will be “no”.  It will mean that an employer cannot simply refuse a flexible working request without discussing this with the employee.  An employer will need to consider alternatives if unable to agree to a flexible working request.

  • Period of consideration:

Flexible working requests must be dealt with by the employer within two (not three) months of receipt of a request, unless an extension to this timeframe is agreed. 

  • “Day One” Right:

The right of an employee to request flexible working is now a “day one” right, i.e., an employee can request remote/part time working from their first day of employment.  In practice, the Government is hoping this will encourage employers to discuss options during the recruitment process and to agree up this front, to avoid a day one request.  ALL employees will be able to make a request from 6 April 2024, regardless of when their employment commenced. 

Practical implications

Employers should ensure that policies are up to date, and that relevant managers and HR are aware of the changes.

The proposed changes are largely technical.  The intention is not that the making of “flexible working” requests should become the “default”.

This is a good opportunity for employers to review their flexible working stance and practices.  It will be important for businesses to show that they are not rejecting requests without open minded consideration and dialogue, and with discussion of any possible alternatives.  Previously, this has been a black and white “yes or no” approach; this is what the changes are trying to discourage. 

The business case for adapting is strong in terms of:

  1. talent acquisition
  2. talent retention
  3. equality, diversity and inclusion
  4. workforce wellbeing
  5. employee engagement
  6. productivity, skills and innovation
  7. environment, social and corporate governance
  8. cost saving

The intention is that a change in employer attitudes will result in a better work/life balance, thereby impacting on general staff motivation and the working environment, with improved well-being and attendance levels, giving rise to better productivity.  Employers can also leverage flexible working initiatives to reduce costs, for example hot desking and reducing the amount of office space needed.

The emphasis is very much on good practice and transparency of approach.  However, flexible working does not suit all businesses.  There can be a concern, in particular for smaller businesses, about covering the shortfall of hours, managing client expectations, and ensuring that the processing of customer orders is efficient, for example. 

Could a more radical approach work for your business?