The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 comes into effect in July 2024. This Act presents new considerations for employers in terms of flexible working for employees, which result from the rapid change in working habits brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Common flexible working arrangements could include:
- Flexible hours/days/working part time
- Working from home
- Job sharing
- Phased retirement
- Annualised hours
- Condensed days
Changes under the Act
The most important changes introduced by the Act include:
- Employees can make two flexible working requests per year, increasing from one under the current law.
- Applications no longer have to describe the effect the proposed flexible working arrangements will have on the employer.
- Employers must respond to requests within two months if no extension is agreed, increasing from three months.
Upon receiving a flexible working request, an employer must now also consult with the employee before rejecting it, although there is currently no standard to which this consultation must be held.
What is staying the same?
Aspects of the current law will remain in place, most notably:
- The employee must have 26 weeks’ service before making a request.
- The application must be dealt with in a reasonable manner.
- The eight statutory grounds on which an employer can currently refuse a flexible working request also remain in place, about which employers should be mindful, namely:
- Unreasonable cost to the business.
- Detrimental effect on the ability of the business to meet customer demand.
- Inability to reorganise work among other staff.
- Inability to recruit other staff.
- Detrimental effect on quality.
- Detrimental effect on performance.
- Lack of appropriate work available.
- It does not align with proposed structural changes for the business.
- Appeals are not required by law but are included within the Acas Code of Practice, which is considered by Employment Tribunals. Therefore, an appeal process is advisable and good practice for employers.
It is important that employers follow the new rules for any requests after July 2024. The Acas Code is also likely to be updated, so employers should update their own policies and procedures when this occurs. Implementing trial periods for new flexible working arrangements is recommended.
There are also further changes expected, which will most likely include the introduction of a ‘Day 1 Right’ for employees to request flexible working through subsequent legislation – i.e., an employee will have the right to make such a request without 26 weeks’ service. Employers should therefore keep up to date on the rules and code of practice at the time of dealing with a request.