Currently new laws on flexible working rights in the UK are passing through parliament. In this article, I will cover how the new rules will affect employees and businesses.
The pandemic saw traditional offices being replaced by kitchen tables, which forced businesses to cook up ways to deal with staff in remote locations. Understanding that employers could face sticky legal situations, the Government has drawn up new legislation to clear up the mess left behind by the lockdowns.
As I write, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill has passed through the House of Commons and is being rubber-stamped by the House of Lords. Read on to learn how the new rules could affect you…
What are the current flexible working rights?
Currently, an employee who has worked for more than 26 weeks’ can make a legal request for a flexible working arrangement. They are only allowed one request every 12 months. The term ‘flexible working’ covers the following:
- Hybrid/remote working
- Reduction in hours
- Change to working times/shifts
- Changing office location.
Before making a request, workers should read their company’s policy and the guidance on the Acas website. The law also protects the employee from being penalised for making that request, such as being demoted or dismissed.
Once a request has been submitted, the employer has three months to consider and discuss the application with the employee (if necessary), before making a decision. Employers have a legal duty to handle requests in a reasonable manner.
There are eight reasons for employers to refuse flexible working applications:
- Additional costs
- Unable to reorganise work among staff
- Inability to recruit additional staff
- Detrimental impact on quality
- Detrimental impact on performance
- Unable to meet customer demand
- Insufficient work during the proposed periods
- Planned structural change to the business.
While employees can appeal decisions, the law does not allow trial periods and agreed changes are permanent. However, both parties can agree to a trial period to assess the new arrangement.
What are the proposed changes to flexible working rights?
The Flexible Working Bill will require employers to consult employees on the available options, before rejecting a request. Regarding timescales, workers can make two requests a year and employers need to respond within two months. Employees no longer need to explain how the business will be affected.
Perhaps the most attention grabbing change is that the Government is proposing to allow workers to make a flexible working request on day one of their employment.
How will the change impact employers?
While we don’t what the final legislation will look like, or when it will come into force, I advise employers to prepare for employees making flexible working requests immediately. Hopefully, your business has recently reviewed and updated its hybrid/remote working policy.
I have seen some new policies that go beyond what is proposed by the Flexible Working Bill, but you will need to be aware that the new rules apply to both location and hours. I advise ensuring that your company policy supplements the statutory position.
Think of the new legislation as an opportunity to review and improve your current practices and workflows. For example, try to be creative when considering flexible working requests, such as longer hours and fewer working days.
The new laws on flexible working rights can be viewed as a minefield, so I advise seeking professional advice. JT HRConsultancy is an established HR services company based in Bedfordshire with clients across the UK.
If you need help of advice on an employment issue, contact me today.