As of April 6 2024, millions of employees across the UK will now benefit from new flexible working laws.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 received Royal Assent in July 2023 and came into effect on 6 April 2024. In short, the act makes it a legal right for employees to make a statutory request for flexible working from day one of their employment.

So, what does this mean for businesses all over the UK? Here, our expert employment law solicitors guide employers through the most important aspects to consider, how to best change your practices for the Flexible Working Bill and how businesses can make the most of hybrid working standards.


The new regulations

If your business does not currently offer hybrid working, you may be wondering: “What are the new flexible working regulations?” The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 introduces a series of new regulations, granting new employee rights and employer obligations for businesses to consider.

Under the new act:

  • New employees can now request flexible working from day one of a new job.
  • Employers should now promptly consult with employees about a request and its potential effects. Employees are to be accompanied at the meeting. Alternatives should be discussed if the request cannot be agreed.
  • If the request is refused, the employer should provide the employee with a reasonable explanation in writing and offer the right to appeal. Any refusal can only be based on specific grounds such as costs or impact on performance.
  • Employees will be allowed to make two flexible working requests within a 12-month period. Previously, an employee was limited to one request every 12 months.
  • Employers must decide whether to grant a flexible working request within two months of the request being submitted (reduced from three months).
  • Employees are no longer required to explain the effect the request would have on their employer.

How employers can prepare for flexible working changes

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 affects how businesses are run, as new processes must be implemented. However, positive effects can be felt by both employees and employers if implemented correctly.

Below you will find key considerations which will help your business adapt to the new UK law on flexible working.

Review and update current policies

Your first priority should be to order a full review into the current flexible working policy of the business. The policy will likely have to undergo extensive changes.

Even if you currently offer remote working, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 concerns more than hybrid working considerations. The term ‘flexible working’ also considers the following arrangements:

  • job sharing
  • remote working
  • hybrid working
  • part-time
  • compressed hours
  • flexitime
  • annualised hours
  • staggered hours
  • predictable hours or set shift patterns
  • phased retirement.

Employers will need to implement a new process to deal with the increased number of flexible working requests now the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 is in effect.

Improve communication

It is important to practice clear communication with employees. Employers should express honest and clear intentions with employees regarding flexible working, including their intention to review all requests fairly regardless of the business’ previous position.

Managers and other senior members of staff should feel comfortable having these conversations with other employees. If need be, managers should be trained to have these conversations effectively.

Improved communication will see further benefits across the business, not just concerning the new flexible working laws. Effective communication can improve productivity and employee engagement, forming stronger bonds between employee and employer.

Effective communication is key to creating a mutually beneficial hybrid working environment, which is likely to be requested far more often now the law is in place.

Be clear with employees

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 does not force employers to grant flexible working requests, but it does enforce that employers must consider all requests fairly and without discrimination. If an employer does not grant a request to an employee, they must explain why the request is not feasible whilst ensuring the job is performed properly.

Employees should feel confident that you will honour this stipulation and try your best to accommodate a request where possible.

There are a few simple ways you can build this trust:

  • Job vacancies should be changed to reflect the company’s flexible working position, model and process. This will help attract a wider range of talent and improve employee-employer relations from the earliest stages of employment.
  • Broach flexible working requests and negotiations during the recruitment process. This will ensure candidates’ preferences can be reasonably met, stated in full within their employee contracts and can be implemented immediately if a job offer is accepted.
  • Staff handbooks should also be updated to outline the company’s position and processes regarding flexible working requests.

Why does this matter to employees?

Work-life balance is becoming increasingly important to employees. It is a sought-after pull factor for top talent and has been shown to have a positive effect on employee performance.

When managed correctly, flexible working can become a boon to employers. Flexible working provides more opportunities for workers through increased inclusivity, widening the talent pool of prospective candidates.

Those who are carers, have a disability or need specialist help will have more flexibility to work where they can and be more productive.

Additionally, employees who submit a flexible working request will now be protected against discrimination, making your business much more inclusive.

The changes to working culture

The flexible working changes in 2024 will inevitably affect the UK’s working culture. If businesses prepare for these changes accordingly, this change will benefit both employees and employers.

As mentioned previously, work-life balance is becoming more important to employees, and if welcomed and balanced in the right way, businesses could see a noticeable improvement in employee happiness, loyalty and productivity.

We anticipate modern smart technologies becoming more important than ever for employers as hybrid work continues to become the standard. Companies that invest in smart working systems will find this transition much easier than those who don’t.

With fewer employees in the office five days a week, changes to office culture should be taken into consideration to make the time they spend in the office more fruitful and welcoming. Commitment to set team days, which fall on the same dates every month, will help employees plan which key dates they should be in the office. Additionally, improving workplace culture with the addition of new incentives, such as team breakfasts, recreational activities after work and team bonding sessions will encourage employees to return to the office.

If your team overwhelmingly wish to work from home, making the office a more comfortable and engaging place to work can only have a positive effect on workplace culture.

Want to learn more?

If you’re struggling to get to grips with the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, get in touch with our employment law solicitors. We can provide expert consultations to help your business understand the new flexible working laws, your rights as an employer and how to best support your employees through the flexible working changes.

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