A Look at the New Flexible Working Requests Changes

Annabel Kelly
Annabel Kelly

Published: May 23rd, 2024

5 min read

The landscape of flexible working arrangements in the UK underwent significant changes in April 2024 as a result of The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, which came into effect on 6 April 2024. Let’s delve into the key modifications:

Day-one right to request

Previously, employees had to complete a minimum of 26 weeks of service before formally requesting flexible working. This hurdle has been removed. Now, employees can ask for flexible working arrangements from their very first day of employment.

Increase request frequency

Under the previous regulations, employees were limited to submitting one flexible working request per year. The new act doubles this allowance, permitting employees to make two requests within a 12-month period.  However, it will not be possible for an employee to make a second request if the original request has not been concluded (this includes any appeal). When determining the number of applications made during a period of 12 months, any such application made before the new provisions came into effect (6 April 2024) is to be included.

Business impact

When making a request, an employee will no longer have to explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks their requested change would have on the employer and how many such effect might be dealt with.

Faster response times

Employers are now obligated to respond to flexible working requests within a two-month timeframe (as opposed to the previous 3 months). This includes concluding any appeal process that may arise from the flexible working request. Employers will still be able to agree to a longer period with the employee and any extension to the two-month timeframe should, where possible, be agreed in writing.

Mandatory consultation before refusal

A crucial change lies in the requirement for employers to consult with employees before rejecting a flexible working request. The new ACAS code suggests that an employer should invite the employee to a consultation meeting to discuss the request. Whilst this is therefore likely to impact the time and resources needed to deal with a flexible working request, this consultation period ensures open communication and will allow employers to explore potential solutions that might accommodate both the employee’s needs and the business’ requirements.

Reasons for refusing a flexible working request

The reasons for refusing a flexible working request remain unchanged and are as follows:

  • The burden of additional costs.

  • Detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand.

  • Inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff.

  • Inability to recruit additional staff.

  • Detrimental impact on quality.

  • Detrimental impact on performance.

  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or

  • Planned structural changes.

Impact on employers

These changes necessitate adjustments for employers. Flexible working policies should be updated to reflect the new legislation and incorporate the consultation process into procedures.

In light of the fact that a number of hurdles have been removed from the employee’s perspective, it is likely that employers will see an increase in flexible working requests. Albeit that this will undoubtedly demand further time and resources from employers, overall, the new flexible working regulations aim to create a more flexible work environment in the UK which benefits both employees and employers, who can potentially attract and retain a top talent by offering a desirable work-life balance.

For assistance with handling flexible working requests, updating policies or understanding the changes, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our specialist Employment team.

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