What are the changes to Flexible Working in 2024?

The world of work is evolving rapidly, and with it, the rules governing flexible working in the UK are undergoing significant changes. The introduction of the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 and the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 marks a pivotal shift in the employment landscape. Here we provide an overview of these changes and practical advice for employers on adapting to this new era of workplace flexibility.

 

What is Flexible Working?

For the avoidance of doubt, I will start by providing a few examples of flexible working:

  • An employee changes from working 6 days a week to 4 days
  • An employee works 4 longer days instead of 5 shorter days
  • An employee works from home either full time or for part of their working week
  • Two employees job share a full time role so that they are each working part time, but covering the full job
  • Someone works short hours, but works every day

 

Some of these arrangements can be done in tandem, such as working longer days, but some days from home.

Understanding the Changes

The most notable change is the removal of the requirement for employees to have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service to make a flexible working application. This means that the statutory right to request flexible working becomes a “day one” right.

 

Additionally, there are several key amendments to the existing rules:

 

  1. Increased Request Frequency: Employees can now make two statutory flexible working requests every 12 months, as opposed to the previous limit of one.

 

  1. Reduced Response Time: Employers must now respond to flexible working requests within two months, down from three, though this can be extended by mutual agreement.

 

  1. Mandatory Consultation: Employers are required to consult with employees before refusing a request.

 

  1. Simplified Request Process: The need for employees to explain the effect of their proposed change and how it could be managed is removed.

 

Acas Consultation and Code of Practice

In response to these legislative changes and evolving work patterns, a new code of practice is being developed by ACAS. It aims to foster a more positive approach to flexible working, reflecting significant shifts in work practices and upcoming legal changes.

 

Implications for Employers

With the increasing popularity of hybrid working models and changing attitudes towards workplace flexibility, it’s crucial for employers to adapt their policies and practices. Here are some steps to consider:

 

  1. Policy Review: Update your flexible working policies to align with the new legal requirements.

 

  1. Managerial Training: Equip managers with the skills and knowledge to handle flexible working requests effectively under the new regulations.

 

  1. Communication Strategy: Communication to staff is important. If you don’t control the narrative, the press will. Inform them of the changes you have made, where to find them documented and what they mean in practice.

 

What is not changing?

Employees do not have an automatic right to flexible working, only the right to request it. However, employers need to ensure that they are treating all requests fairly and consistently to avoid claims of favouritism, discrimination, bullying or harassment.

 

There are eight legitimate reasons an employer can reject a request for flexible working:

  • it will cost your business too much
  • you cannot reorganise the work among other staff
  • you 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 your employee to do when they’ve requested to work
  • there are planned changes to the business, for example, you intend to reorganise or change the business and think the request will not fit with these plans

 

You must be able to justify these reasons objectively and be willing and able to demonstrate it in an employment tribunal, should you ever need to do so.

 

It is important to remember that a flexible working request is a permanent change to an employee’s contract of employment. If a temporary change is required, this should be handled in a discussion outside of the flexible working policy and procedures.

Timetable for Implementation

The right to request flexible working from day one of employment comes into force on 6 April 2024.

The timeline for the implementation of the remaining regulations under the Act is still uncertain. However, the government’s press release in July 2023 suggests that these measures are expected to be operational around July 2024.

Most companies are now working on the basis that all these changes are already in place as it makes a single change easier to manage and communicate to staff.

 

Conclusion

The reform of the right to request flexible working represents a significant shift in the UK’s employment landscape. Employers must proactively adapt to these changes to stay compliant and competitive. By embracing these reforms, businesses can not only meet legal obligations but also foster a more flexible, inclusive, and productive work environment.