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New law will see significant change to flexible working rights from April 2024

View profile for Philip Richardson
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Having gained Royal Assent in the summer of 2023, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 will see significant changes to the way in which employees are able to make flexible working requests and how their employers must consider these requests. These changes will become law on 6th April 2024.

The Act will provide millions of workers better access to flexible working, including when, where and how they choose to work. It is a significant development that could transform how organisations, both large and small, approach flexible working.

The main changes the Act brings about include:

  • 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.
  • Currently employees must have worked in their role for a minimum of 26 weeks before they are able to make a flexible working request. Under the new law they will be able to make a request from the first day of their employment.

Another key aspect of the new law is that unless the request is accepted in full employers are advised to invite the employee to a meeting to discuss the request and alternative arrangements if the request cannot be agreed on. This may help to avoid any disputes between employee and employer.

However a missing piece of the puzzle is the right to appeal if a flexible working request is rejected. An appeals process is recommended by ACAS in its own code of practice; however, it is missing from this legislation. An appeals process gives the company the opportunity to clear up any concerns about the business justification for refusing the request before an employee can express any frustrations with the decision externally i.e. through ACAS themselves or by raising legal claims.

It could be said that the impact of this legislation may be easier for larger companies to absorb, as many will have already introduced flexible or agile working policies. However, it may take SMEs some time to adjust and understand how they can begin to introduce more flexibility into their organisation, if they haven’t already.

It is worth remembering that not every business will be able to provide flexible working arrangements to their employees. There are some roles where this is very difficult to achieve. Whilst this new legislation won’t force those businesses to introduce unworkable policies, there will be an onus on all employers to make their position very clear to both current staff and any potential new hires.