The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 has been passed by Parliament and is scheduled to become law in April 2024.
The new legislation presents some notable changes affecting employees’ rights to request flexible working.
What Changes are Ahead?
The new Act will:
- Enable employees to make two requests in each 12-month period rather than one currently
- Remove the requirement on employees to make suggestions as to how their request would impact their employer or how the impact could be minimised
- Require employers to consult before rejecting a request
- Reduce the employer’s response time to 2 months from 3 months currently.
There was an expectation that the right to request flexible working would become a ‘day one’ right but this has not been included and will covered by separate legislation.
Meanwhile, employees will still be required to have been on-board for least 26 weeks before they will be eligible to make a flexible working request.
No changes have been made to the 8 eight statutory business reasons under which an employer can reject a request.
These remain and they are;
- Burden of additional costs
- Inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
- Inability to recruit additional staff
- Detrimental impact on quality
- Detrimental impact on performance
- Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
- Insufficient work during times the employee proposes to work
- Planned structural changes to the business
However, an employer cannot refuse a flexible working request on grounds such as;
- Flexible working does not fit with its Company culture or;
- Any reason relating to the person’s protected characteristics, e.g. age, race, religion, marital status, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy etc.
What is classed as ‘Flexible Working’?
For many, flexible working became synonymous with working-from-home during the Covid pandemic. However, Flexible Working spans wider than that and it includes;
- Flexible start / finish times – ‘Flexitime’
- Reduced working hours – ‘Part-time’
- Working the same number of hours but over fewer days – ‘Compressed Hours’
- Working contracted hours spread over a year – ‘Annualised Hours’
- Sharing job with another employee – ‘Job Share’
- Phased Retirement – reduced hours before full retirement
- Working from home or elsewhere – ‘Remote Working’