The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 (the Act) gained Royal Assent on 20 July 2023. It is expected to come into force at some point in 2024. B P Collins’ employment team advises on the notable changes the new Act will make once in force.
- The ability to make requests more frequently
Employees will have the right to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period instead of one. This allows employees to request to adapt their working hours or conditions to better align with their personal circumstances without facing excessive restrictions.
- Reduced times for employers to decide
Employers are now required to respond more promptly to flexible working requests. Upon receipt of a request, employers must address it within 2 months unless an extension is mutually agreed upon. Under the previous law, employers had 3 months. This ensures that employees receive a timely response, giving them clarity about their working arrangements.
- A new requirement to consult employees before rejection
Employers must consult with an employee prior to refusing a request for flexible working. However, there is no minimum standard for the consultation set out in the Act. An updated Acas Code of Practice will provide guidance to employers on what the consultation process should involve. This may not be a significant departure from many employers’ current practices; however, the hope is that it will encourage a more open and collaborative conversation about flexible working requests.
- Employees don’t have to explain the effect of the request
The Act no longer requires employees to explain the potential effects of agreeing to their flexible working request and how those effects might be addressed. This modification simplifies the process for employees, and shifts the burden of working out whether a flexible working arrangement can work (and if so, how) onto the employer.
Although that means there is a big shake up of processes which employers will need to follow when it comes to flexible working requests, the Act does not change the list of reasons available to employers to reject flexible working requests.
It also does not make the right to request flexible working a “day one” right, although it’s expected that the current requirement for 26 weeks’ continuous service before making a flexible working request will be abolished at some point in 2024.
The Act marks a significant step towards assisting employees with a better work-life balance through flexible working arrangements. However, with the increased number of requests allowed, timely responses required of employers, and an emphasis on consultation, employers must take steps to ensure they are well equipped to deal with these changes.