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Changes to the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act and their impact on employees and businesses

View profile for Philip Richardson
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In today's fast paced world, the traditional 9-to-5 office work setup is becoming increasingly outdated. Recognising this shift, and the needs and preferences of employees to have a more balanced work and personal life, the government have introduced changes to the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act which aim to empower employees and promote a healthier work-life balance.

The main changes to the Act are:

  • Employees will now be able to make two flexible working requests in any 12 month period instead of one.
  • Requests must be dealt with by employers within two months of receipt of a request (reduced from three months) unless an extension is agreed upon by both parties.
  • Employees will no longer, in their application, have to explain what effect they think agreeing to the request would have on the business and how any such effect might be dealt with.
  • Previously employees had to have worked for their employer for 26 weeks before being able to make a flexible working request. The changes to the law mean that they are now able to make a request from the first day of their employment

What is flexible working?

Flexible working refers to when, where and how employees work.

For example when could be reduced hours, compressed work weeks with longer and/or shorter days, term-time only hours, or flexitime policies which typically give employees more flexibility on when they work their contracted hours, such as being able to adjust start/finish times to work around other commitments and appointments.

The where aspect of flexible working refers to whether or not employees work full time in the office, some of the week on site and some of the week at home (hybrid) or completely remote.

How refers to how certain roles are performed, for example by splitting a role with another person either 50/50 or by any other percentage (known as job sharing).

Under the new changes to the law employees have the right to make up to two requests to amend when, where or how they perform their role in any twelve month period.

What are the benefits of flexible working arrangements?

One of the most significant benefits of the Flexible Working Act is its positive impact on employee well-being. Individuals who work in a flexible capacity are able to request work pattens which better suit their personal lives than a traditional 9-5 and in-person set up. Having a more positive work-life balance helps reduce stress and burnout, ultimately improving job satisfaction and in turn, staff retention. Flexible working can help employees to avoid lengthy commutes, accommodate their childcare responsibilities, or simply have more control over their time, and can significantly improve their quality of life.

From an employer’s perspective, having the option of flexible working arrangements may also attract talent to your business, for who the traditional way of working was not accommodating enough to factor in other responsibilities in their personal lives, and therefore may have deterred them from applying to suitable roles. By breaking down barriers to employment, such as geographical constraints or caregiving responsibilities, this legislation opens up opportunities for a more diverse talent pool. It enables individuals from different backgrounds, abilities, and circumstances to join your workforce and create a more inclusive workplace.

However, certain industries or roles may not be well-suited to remote work or flexible work patterns. Addressing these concerns requires careful planning, clear communication, and ongoing support from both employers and policymakers to avoid potential disputes between employees and their employers.

The Flexible Working Act is a significant step forward in modernising the way we work and the changes will be welcomed by employees across the country. By recognising the diverse needs and preferences of today's workforce, this change to the law promotes greater flexibility, autonomy, and well-being as well as benefitting those businesses who are able to adopt it.

Our expert employment law team have a wealth of experience in helping employers draft employment contracts as well as policies and procedures, including those relating to flexible working arrangements. If you require employment law advice or HR support please contact us on 0161 696 6170.