Everything you need to know about the new flexible working rules

Sep 29, 2023 • 3 min read

The UK’s flexible working bill has passed through Parliament, giving employees the right to request more flexibility when it comes to their working arrangements.  

The bill’s approval demonstrates a positive shift in attitudes, with flexible working now seen as a right instead of a privilege.  

This article explores the impending changes set in motion by the new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 and how they can significantly improve the employee experience. 

Changes to flexible working requests:

  • Employees can apply for various flexible working arrangements, including job-sharing, remote working, part-time hours, compressed hours and more.
  • Employers are now obligated to respond to requests within two months instead of three and will consult with staff before rejecting requests.
  • Employees can make two statutory requests within a year without explaining what impact the change will have on their employer and without being required to suggest solutions to how it may be dealt with.

Day-One Right and its potential effect on smaller businesses:

  • The day-one right allows immediate requests without completing 26 weeks (about 6 months) of service.
  • The day-one right to request flexible working will be included in secondary legislation expected to come into force next year.
  • Smaller businesses may face challenges handling potential increases in requests. The reason for this is that many small businesses do not have large HR teams and will likely be under a substantial amount of pressure as they tackle the many requests that will require processing in a timely manner.

What grounds can employers give for denying an employee’s flexible working request?

The reasons that employers can give for opting against proceeding with a request will remain the same as they were under current employment rules. Organisations will still be able to reject a flexible working application if evidence of the following can be provided:

  • The costs incurred will have a detrimental effect on the business
  • Existing staff members cannot effectively reorganise the work
  • The business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • People cannot be recruited to carry out the work
  • The proposed working times are during quieter periods with less work to be completed
  • Changes will affect quality and performance
  • The business is planning changes to its workforce

Though employers can still give the same reasons for denying work flexibility requests, the process will prove much more of a challenge. Applications will be granted careful consideration in light of the present shift towards a more positive work climate. Business and Trade Minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “A happier workforce means increased productivity, and that’s why we’re backing measures to give people across the UK even more flexibility over where and when they work.”

How should HR teams prepare for this change?

  • As a result of the new legislation, HR departments can expect to receive a large number of requests, particularly if their company doesn’t already offer flexible working opportunities.
  • HR teams should educate themselves on the incoming changes in order to prepare themselves for their new obligations.
  • Employee handbooks and HR policies must be revised and updated to reflect the new process before it comes into effect in 2024.
  • HR departments would benefit from implementing efficient systems that enable employees to submit flexible working requests as well as receive prompt and clear feedback.
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