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Flexible Working Bill: What do employers need to know
The Flexible Working Bill passes the third reading (14 July). It now waits for the final stage of Royal Assent when the bill will become an Act.
The Flexible Working Bill also known as the Employment Relations Bill aims to give employees greater flexibility over where, when and how they work. The Bill completed the third reading in July and only requires royal assent before becoming law.
Flexible working isn’t just a combination of working from home and in the office. It can mean employees making use of flexitime, job sharing and working compressed, annualised or staggered hours. The new plans will allow employees to request changes to their working hours, times or location from day one of employment.
Why introduce the Flexible Working Bill?
Flexible working has historically been seen as a benefit only offered by progressive employers in the UK. Research by Timewise indicates in 2016, 11% of jobs advertised offered flexible working. In 2022, this increased to 30%.
There are many benefits to flexible working including a better work-life balance and improved health and well-being. But in practice, flexible working is not being fairly implemented. A mother was awarded damages of almost £185,000 as her employer refused her flexible working request.
The aim of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is to empower employees to have greater flexibility and control over their working patterns.
What changes will the Flexible Working Bill have?
Under current legislation, any employee who has worked at a company for 26 weeks or longer can request flexible working once per year. The Bill will:
- remove the 26-week qualifying period before employees can request flexible working making it a day-one right.
- require employers to consult with their employees, as a means of exploring the available options before the request can be turned down
- allow employees to make two flexible working requests in any 12 months
- require employers to respond to requests within two months, (previously three)
- remove the requirement for employees to outline how their employer will address the impact of their flexible working request.
The Government has indicated it will deliver the day one right to request flexible working through secondary legislation.
Image credit: background image by everydayplus via Canva
How should employers prepare for flexible working requests?
Employers should consider any potential consequences of the Bill that may be difficult to manage. As an example, an organisation may advertise for an office-based full-time role but receives a flexible working request on the first day of employment.
Before the Bill, the employee would have to wait a minimum of 26 weeks before making a request. But managers will now have to hold open conversations with team members and genuinely consider whether their role is suitable for flexible working.
It will become necessary to review and update policies and staff handbooks, so procedures are clear to everyone.
If not already, employers could start to consider how they may introduce flexible working. Earlier this year, the four-day work week trial reported many positive effects from shorter working hours. This is becoming a popular choice for some companies. Chris Scott, Founder of Acceler8 was recently interviewed on HR Voices on how he has shifted his organisation from fully office-based pre-pandemic to a 4-day working week for 100% pay. Some employers have flexible bank holidays, which allow staff to swap public holidays for different religious festivals or to a more preferred time for the employee.
Can an employer refuse a flexible working request?
Under the new Bill, an employer can still refuse a flexible working request within reason. But the employer must consult with their employee and explore the available options before refusing the application.
In response to these changes, Acas is updating its statutory Code of Practice on handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly. The purpose of the updated draft Acas Code is to offer employers, employees, and representatives’ practical guidance on implementing the new flexible working rules in practice.
If you are considering reviewing your policies and procedures or considering implementing flexible working in your workplace and are seeking assistance, we can help you source an HRi accredited HR consultant to work with your business.