New Flexible Working Laws – What You Need To Know

Flexible Working Laws

Increased and improved rights for workers to ask for flexible working arrangements will soon be coming into effect with the introduction of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 which comes into force on 6 April 2024.

Below, we have outlined how the new flexible working legislation will affect employers and employees.

What changes will the new flexible working laws bring into force?

The new legislation enables employees to make a flexible working request on their first day of employment, removing the current requirement whereby an employee must have at least 26 weeks of continuous service before they can make a formal request.

From next month, workers will also be able to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period. Currently, workers are only legally entitled to make one request. It reduces the period for employers to deal with requests from three months to two (unless an extension is agreed upon).

The new laws also state that employers must ‘consult’ with the employee who is making the flexible working request before they can refuse it. The current requirement that employees have to explain what the likely effects of their request being granted would be and how this might be dealt with is also being removed.

A new Acas Code of Practice on how employers should handle flexible working requests will be published alongside the implementation of the new legislation.

The new Regulations extend to England, Scotland and Wales and update The Flexible Working Regulations 2014.

The rise of flexible, hybrid and remote working

Enhanced employee rights regarding flexible working have been the subject of various campaigns and much discussion for some time and gained real traction during the pandemic when many employers were forced to try new and alternative ways of working.

Acas defines flexible working as a working arrangement that meets the needs of employers and employees as to when, where and how someone carries out their job role, including:

  • Part-time working;
  • Remote/hybrid working;
  • Flexitime;
  • Job sharing;
  • Compressed hours; and
  • Term-time working.

Not all employers have embraced flexible working and there have been reports of some larger employers restricting or removing hybrid working or putting pressure on employees to come back in to the office. However, there are real benefits for employers in terms of attracting and retaining talent in considering flexibility.

Employees who have flexible working arrangements in place often have more autonomy which often leads to enhanced engagement, an improved work-life balance, and they are typically happier in their employment. According to research, flexible working employees tend to take less time off work for childcare or mental health issues.

Advice to employers regarding the new flexible working regulations

Employers will need to review their flexible working policies to ensure that they meet the requirements of the new legislation.

Employers will need to evaluate their approach to consulting over flexible working requests, as employees will now have to be consulted before a request is rejected. Businesses also need to bear in mind that there will be a shorter time frame in which to consider a flexible working request.

In the circumstances where an employer seeks to reject a request, they can still do so based on one or more of the following reasons, as specified by Acas:

  • “It will cost too much
  • They cannot reorganise the work among other staff
  • They cannot recruit more staff
  • There will be a negative effect on quality
  • There will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
  • There will be a negative effect on performance
  • There’s not enough work for you to do when you’ve requested to work
  • There are planned changes to the business, for example, your employer plans to reorganise or change the business and thinks the request will not fit with these plans”

An alternative option instead of refusing a request could be to offer an employee a flexible working arrangement on a trial basis. This provides both sides with the opportunity to see how the arrangement works in practice.

Some employers, potentially those struggling to recruit or retain staff, may deem that the new flexible working laws aren’t enough and might consider offering arrangements that go further than the minimum statutory requirements in an attempt to improve their offering to employees and potential employees.

How can we help?Flexible Working Bill

Laura Kearsley is a Partner in our expert Employment Law team. Laura has a strong reputation in all aspects of employment law, including Employment Tribunal litigation, discipline and grievance issues, and unfair and constructive unfair dismissal claims, and has particular experience in developing HR support services for businesses.

At Nelsons, we advise organisations of all types on appropriate policies and procedures to adopt to provide structure and fairness for managers and employees. We offer a tailored hybrid working policy that deals with the issues associated with flexible working, in line with an employer’s preferred approach. For further details regarding this service, click here.

For further information concerning the subjects discussed in this article, please contact Laura or another member of the team in DerbyLeicester, or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online enquiry form.

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