Understand reforms for flexible working requests

Earlier this year, reforms that allow employees new rights for flexible working requests took effect. It was part of a wave of changes in employment legislation.

The laws are part of government aims to improve the working lives of employers as well as employees. As well as The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, two other pieces of legislation became law from April. These are the introduction of: 

  • The Carer’s Leave Act 2023
  • Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 

We will delve deeper into those two acts in other blogs. But the first of the reforms we will focus on are those that allow employees the right to request flexible working.

Employers should have already reviewed these policies to ensure they reflect the new requirements. But we know running an SME means you have lots to do. As a result, getting to grips with new laws is often left until there’s an issue. It is vital that business owners train managers on how to handle flexible working requests within the new law so there are no issues. 

Employment Law reforms for flexible working requests

Under the new legislation, flexible working requests applies to all types of work patterns. That includes part-time, job-sharing, compressed hours and working from home must all be considered.

With the previous law, it was a requirement for employees to have been employed for 26 weeks before making flexible working hours requests. The new legislation means employees have that right from the first day of employment!

We’ve broken down what the changes mean for employers and employees.

What the changes mean for employers

Flexible working is nothing new and since the pandemic many businesses have flexible working conditions. But from April this year, employers have a duty to consult with employees before refusing a flexible working request. in light of the changes.

As well as allowing employees the right to request flexible working from day one, the other reforms are: 

• Before employers reject any request for flexible working arrangements, they have to explain the reasons behind their decision. Previously, employers could deny any request for flexible working without explanation.

• Employers are also now obliged to respond to flexible working requests within two months, compared to three months previously.

• Employers need to consult with an employee before rejecting a request.

Can I refuse a request?

As part of the reforms, employers must give a reason for refusing requests. There are eight reasons for refusal. These are:

  • The change will cost the business too much.
  • It will negatively affect the quality of work or service.
  • There will be an overall negative effect on performance.
  • You cannot distribute the work among the team.
  • You’re unable to recruit more team members.
  • It will affect the business’s ability to meet customer demand.
  • Plans are in place for changes to the business and the request doesn’t fit in with the plans.
  • There isn’t enough work for the employee to do when they have requested to work. For example, if the request is for working on an evening or a weekend.

What the changes mean for employees

Flexible working has many benefits including a healthy work-life balance for employees. As a result, businesses that are flexible are considered a better place to work. There are two main points for employees to understand as a result of the reforms. These are:

  • Under the new legislation, employees can also make two statutory requests for flexible working in any 12 month period, as opposed to one request previously.
  • An employee no longer needs to explain what effect, if any, their request would have on the employer and how that might be dealt with.

Does flexible working help businesses?

You may run a business and be thinking that flexibility somehow affects your authority. But the truth is that flexible working can improve productivity, attract the top talent and improves work-life balance for employees.

According to a FlexJobs study, 66 per cent of remove employees feel they are more productive at home. A further 76 per cent said there were fewer distractions at home. A study by CIPD in 2023 found that six per cent of employees changed jobs where businesses refused flexibility.

Being flexible can, therefore, attract the best talent to a business. 

If you are unsure about the new laws or have any other HR requirements, contact our experienced team today.