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Embracing the New Era of Flexible Working: What Employers Need to Know

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 passed in July 2023, and brings with it some significant changes to the right to request flexible working in GB. These changes will come into effect once the supporting regulations are in place, which is expected to be approximately a year from when the law was passed. So, what do these changes mean for you as an employer? Let's dive in!

A Day One Right for All

When the provisions of this Act are implemented there will also be secondary legislation to make the right to request flexible working into a "day one right." This means that employees will no longer have to wait to have 26 weeks of continuous service to make such a request.

Starting from day one of their employment, every employee will have the freedom to seek flexible work arrangements. This progressive change reflects a forward-looking approach to work-life balance and underscores the importance of accommodating individual needs right from the very beginning of a working relationship. 

Two Chances, Two Requests

Another development is that employees will be entitled to make two separate requests for flexible working within a 12-month period. However, it's essential to note that only one request can be active at a time. This change offers employees more opportunities to find a work arrangement that suits their needs, while also ensuring a fair and manageable process for employers to consider these requests.

Handling Flexible Working Requests

As an employer, we understand that handling flexible working requests might raise some concerns. Employers will be required to give serious consideration to these requests within two months, rather than the previous three-month window. Of course, if both parties agree, this period can be extended.

Furthermore, the Act is intended to emphasise the importance of open and transparent communication with employees during this process. Employers will need to consult with the employee if there are concerns about accommodating the request. While the legislation doesn't prescribe a specific consultation format, there will be updated guidance from ACAS to help you to ensure a smooth and fair process. We expect that it will involve discussing the reason for the employee's request, explaining the nature of any concerns you may have, providing any data or information that forms the basis of your view and providing the employee with an opportunity to comment before any exploring any potential solutions.

Explaining Rejections

In case a request is to be rejected, the eight acceptable reasons for doing so remain unchanged. Currently, employers can reject an application for any of the following reasons:

  • Extra costs that will damage the business
  • The work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • People cannot be recruited to do the work
  • Flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • The business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • There’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • The business is planning changes to the workforce

However, what's different now is the requirement to provide a clear explanation for the basis of the decision. This new stipulation arises from the consultation process, which aims to promote transparency and fairness in handling flexible working requests. Employees are entitled to make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal if they believe that their request has not been handled in a reasonable manner; that the decision to reject their request has been based on incorrect facts; or that they feel they have been treated unfairly because they asked for flexible working.

Embrace the Possibilities

Our advice to employers is to approach flexible working requests with an open mind. Each request should be evaluated on its individual merits and considered constructively. It's essential to explore how these arrangements could benefit both the employee and the organisation and how these can be accommodated rather than searching for reasons to deny the request.

The pandemic has shown us the immense potential of remote and flexible work. Embracing these changes and genuinely considering flexible working requests will not only create a positive work environment but also foster trust and loyalty among your employees.

With the passage of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, we are stepping into a new era of work flexibility. As an employer, staying informed and being prepared for these changes will ensure a smooth transition. Remember, offering flexible work arrangements can lead to a happier, more productive workforce, and ultimately, a thriving business. 

Let's adapt, embrace, and pave the way for a more flexible future in the world of work. Together, we can make a difference and create workplaces that truly work for everyone involved.

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