Flexible Working Bill: how to respond to a flexible working requestNatalie
Flexible Working Bill: What is this?
Get ready for a shake up, friends! The government’s ‘Flexible Working Bill‘, also known as the ‘Employment Relations Act 2023’, is on the horizon, set to significantly change the working landscape.
The brain behind this is MP Yasmin Qureshi, who’s pushing for greater employment rights and flexibility. The goal? To allow employees to have more control over when, where, and how they work. The bill has almost crossed the finish line in the House of Lords and has been granted royal assent to become law. As yet, there is no implementation date but it’s important to get prepared.
Here are the essentials: employees can propose changes to their working hours, times, or locations twice a year. If you’re considering declining a flexible working request, you’ll need a well-founded reason.
Rewind to 2016: flexible working was more of a rare privilege than a standard offer. But times have changed. According to the analysts at Sonovate, 58% of UK businesses now offer some form of flexible working. That’s a staggering increase of 566% in just seven years.
Let’s dig into the details. Under the current Employment Rights Act 1996, an employee can ask for flexible working once a year, but only after 26 weeks of service. And they also have to explain how their proposal won’t disrupt their employer’s operations.
The new flexible working bill, however, is setting new standards:
- Employees still must wait 26 weeks* before being able to make a request.
- Employees can submit two flexible working requests in any 12-month period.
- Employers must respond to requests within two months, down from three.
- There’s no longer a need for employees to outline how a flexible working request might impact the employer.
- Employers must have a dialogue with the employee before declining a flexible working request.
* The Government has indicated that it will create Day 1 employment rights through secondary legislation – although none has appeared as yet. The issue is not covered in the Act.
A few other handy to know things:
- Employers are not required to offer the right to appeal if a flexible working request is rejected (although ACAS recommend it!)
- There is no minimum standard of consultation set out, so this ‘dialogue’ with the employee before deciding to reject their application could mean anything!
So, how should you prepare?
Start by identifying potential challenges the bill might present. Imagine you’ve just hired someone for a full-time, office-based role, and on their first day, they request to work flexibly.
In the past, this might have been a deal-breaker. Not anymore. You’ll now need to have an open discussion with your team members about why their role is or isn’t suitable for flexible working.
Having a clear plan in place – like a procedure in your employee handbook – could be incredibly helpful in this situation.
You’re likely already familiar with common flexible arrangements like part-time, remote, or at-home working. But for those feeling adventurous, there are more creative options.
Consider a four-day work week, or term-time working where staff can take paid or unpaid leave during school holidays. Some businesses even offer flexible bank holidays, where employees can rearrange public holidays to suit their needs.
But remember, changing contracts is serious business – you need to fully commit to the changes you introduce.
Why should you consider a flexible working request?
Consider this: 58% of businesses now offer some kind of flexible working. This popular perk gives you a competitive advantage in the current talent market. In a time where skilled workers are scarce and people are resigning at record rates, offering flexible working could help you stand out.
In addition to attracting talent, flexible working can also contribute to a positive organisational culture.
Can you still refuse a flexible working request?
Absolutely. The Flexible Working Bill doesn’t mean you have to approve every request for flexible work. If your operations are heavily dependent on physical presence – for instance, a warehouse or a coffee shop – then flexible working may not be practical.
However, remember that a crucial part of any business is its culture. It’s not only about the work that gets done, but also how everyone interacts and supports one another. So, whether you’re considering a four-day work week or simply ensuring everyone feels valued, keep in mind: a strong culture is what truly makes a great business.
If you need help with preparing for these changes, contact me.
(Article accurate at the time of writing – July 2023).