The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill received Royal Assent on 20th July 2023, bringing in a number of changes to the current rules around statutory flexible working requests. These changes are designed to make it easier for employees to request flexible working arrangements and to give them more control over their work-life balance. They are also expected to benefit employers, by improving employee morale and productivity.
What are the key changes?
The key changes to the rules around statutory flexible working requests are:
- employees will be able to make two statutory flexible working requests in any 12-month period, up from one;
- employers will have to deal with requests within two months, down from three;
- employers will not be able to refuse a request without consulting the employee; and
- employees will no longer have to explain what effect the change would have on the organisation.
Why are these changes important?
1. Work-life balance: this makes it easier for employees to request flexible working arrangements and can help employees achieve a better work-life balance. According to numerous studies, this balance can lead to improved health and well-being, as well as increased productivity.
2. Flexible working requests: the changes make it more likely that employers will be able to accommodate flexible working requests. This is because the shorter deadline for making a decision gives employers less time for refusing a request. Additionally, the requirement to consult with the employee before refusing a request means that employers will have to consider the employee’s individual circumstances and needs (as opposed to focusing on the business first).
3. Impact on the business: the changes remove the requirement for employees to explain what effect the change would have on the organisation. This is a positive change because it takes away the burden on employees to justify their request. It also means that employers will have to be more open-minded about flexible working requests and less likely to dismiss them out of hand.
What do employers need to do to comply with the new rules?
Employers need to be aware of the new rules to make sure they are complying with them to avoid potential employment tribunal claims. Here are some tips for employers:
- keep a record of all flexible working requests and the decisions made on them;
- consult with the employee before refusing a request;
- consider the employee’s reasons for requesting flexible working and whether there are any alternative arrangements that could be made; and
- if the request is refused, give the employee written reasons for the decision.
The new normal way of working
Flexible working was a new way of working during the pandemic, but with the introduction of the new rules it’s clear that this is the new norm. Employees will have rights from day one of their employment to request a flexible working arrangement (rather than having to previously wait two years) and employers will need to adapt to accommodate new starters and existing staff.
The new rules around flexible working are a welcome development and are likely to have a positive impact on both employees and employers. By making it easier for employees to request flexible working arrangements and by giving employers a more productive workforce, the new law will help to create a more modern and fairer workplace.
If you are an employer and need advice about the new rules around flexible working, please call our employment team on 020 3588 3500.