In July, the government’s Flexible Working Bill completed its final stage in the House of Lords and has been granted Royal Assent.
Why has the Flexible Working Bill been introduced?
As of a few years ago, flexible working was considered a luxury perk only offered by those employers who were progressive in their thinking. In 2016, a survey showed that just 8.7% of job vacancies advertised were considered flexible, but now around 58% of UK businesses currently offer flexible working in some form.
Flexible working can have many benefits including an improved work-life balance, and improved health and wellbeing. Whilst more and more people are working exclusively from their homes, research shows that the practice is not being fairly implemented across all sectors.
The new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill was proposed by government last June. Its aim was to overhaul the outdated application process for flexible working and give more power to the employees to have control over their working life.
What does the Flexible Working Bill do?
The Bill will introduce some huge changes to the current UK employment laws. At present, the Employment Rights Act of 1996 states that an employee is permitted to ask their employer for flexible working once a year only if they have worked there for 26 weeks or longer. They also currently must explain what effect the employee thinks the change would have on their employer.
Some of the key changes the new legislation will implement are:
- Employers will have to consult with the employee before they reject a flexible working request
- Employees will be allowed to make two flexible working requests per 12 months
- Employers will need to respond to flexible working requests within a two-month period (this was previously three months)
- Employees will no longer be required to lay out how the flexible working request may impact their employer
Alongside the protections in the Bill, many workers will be given the right to make a flexible working request from day one of employment.
How should employers prepare for a flexible working request?
It’s important for employers to review the Bill and make note of any potential consequences for the business and how they might manage any difficulties.
It’s advisable that employers get the infrastructure in place to deal with potential scenarios following the Bill, such as setting out a procedure in the employee handbook. Employers should also consider how ambitious they are willing to be in their flexibility. Most will already be aware of common options such as, part-time, remote, or hybrid working, but some may wish to consider other arrangements.
Four day working weeks have become more popular in recent years and could be considered. Additionally, Amazon introduced term-time working where employees could take paid or un-paid leave during the school holidays. Furthermore, some employers allow employees to swap bank holidays for a more convenient time.
Whatever employers decide to do, they must keep in mind that a change to an employment contract is a big move and can have real consequences for the workforce. They must be fully committed and confident in whatever they decide to introduce to the workplace. In response to this legislation, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has launched a consultation on new updates to its Code of Practice on handling requests for flexible working.
Why should employers approve a flexible working request?
It’s stated that more than half of businesses now give their employees options around flexible working. This can be seen to give those employers a better chance when hiring new staff and retaining them also. In addition, it opens up hiring to a whole range of talent as it’s common for more experienced people to look for part time roles and also encourages inclusivity by having flexibility options for those who suffer from a medical condition or have mental health needs.
Alongside this, flexible working is also proven to result in a more positive workplace culture which helps boost morale and employee’s willingness to go above and beyond for the company.
The new Flexible Working Bill has been designed to make it easier for staff members to appeal for a more lenient approach to working styles from day one of employment.
Can an employer refuse a flexible working request?
In short, yes, and employer can still refuse a flexible working request. The new Bill doesn’t mean that employers must approve any request; if the business’s operations are not designed to facilitate flexible working, or the role of the person making the request is not suitable, the flexible policies will not be possible.
It’s unrealistic to assume that every employer will be able to or want to grant flexible working requests. It is important for employers to be as transparent as possible with their policies and job vacancies as to the level of flexibility they offer. If they don’t do this, employers could be faced with disgruntled employees and potential tribunal cases for their lack of openness around flexible working.