Flexible working is a prominent topic in the UK, shaping the modern professional landscape. Fueled by technological advancements, the pandemic, and evolving societal norms, the demand for flexible work arrangements is growing evident through the surge in flexible work requests received by our clients under the existing statutory framework.
The term “flexible working” encompasses more than just remote work or working from home; it spans various modifications to work practices, such as job sharing, part-time work, adjusted hours, and even working from different locations.
Reflecting these changing dynamics, the UK government initiated consultations in 2021 to revamp flexible working laws, aiming to enhance accessibility for employees. Consequently, as part of its reform commitment, the government supported the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023—a Private Members’ Bill presented by Labour MP Yasmin Quereshi. This bill received Royal Assent on July 20, 2023, becoming law.
The Act’s provisions are expected to take effect within a year of receiving Royal Assent (by July 2024). This timeline allows employers to prepare for upcoming changes.
The Act introduces several modifications:
- Employees making flexible work requests will no longer need to detail the potential impact on their employer or its resolution. However, this aspect can still be discussed during the consultation process.
- Employees can now make two flexible work requests within a 12-month span, compared to the previous allowance of one request. Concurrent requests are prohibited.
- Employers must engage in consultation with employees before rejecting a flexible work request.
- Employers are obligated to render a decision on a flexible work request within two months, down from the current three months. Extensions can be agreed upon by both parties.
The Act doesn’t grant an immediate “Day 1” right to flexible work but does promise the right to request flexible work from the outset of a new job, without waiting for 26 weeks of service.
Importantly, the Act maintains the “right to request” nature—employers aren’t bound to provide automatic flexible work.
The eight grounds for rejecting flexible work requests remain unchanged.
ACAS, on July 12, 2023, initiated consultations on updating its code of practice for handling flexible work requests. This revised code aligns with legal changes and the evolving flexible work landscape, post the pandemic. The consultation period closes on September 6, 2023. While the ACAS Code isn’t legally binding, it’s considered by Employment Tribunals in relevant cases. ACAS will also revise its non-statutory guidance.
The revised Code encourages a positive, collaborative approach, emphasising employers should accept requests unless valid business reasons exist. It also extends the right to be accompanied at discussions to include trade union representation.
To prepare for these changes:
- Review existing flexible work policies and update them accordingly, including considerations for consultation processes.
- Decide if implementing changes before they are mandated is suitable.
- Train HR teams and managers on the new processes.
- Familiarise yourself with the updated ACAS Code and guidance.
- Strengthen record-keeping practices.
- Consider specifying suitable flexible work arrangements in job ads.
- Be aware of the government‘s call for evidence on non-statutory flexible working.
Given the ongoing developments in flexible working, it’s crucial for employers and employees to stay updated, as more changes could emerge.