In an era where the traditional 9-to-5 workday is increasingly challenged, the UK Parliament passed the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023. This legislation, which is currently awaiting Royal Assent, introduces significant changes to the flexible working regime. Understanding these changes is crucial to navigating the evolving landscape of employment relations for business owners and senior managers of small to medium businesses.
Change to number of requests
One of the most notable changes introduced by the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 is the increase in the number of flexible working requests an employee can make within a 12-month period. Previously, employees could only make one such request per year. Now, they can make two. This change reflects the growing demand for flexible working arrangements and the recognition of their potential benefits, such as improved work-life balance and increased job satisfaction.
However, the Act also imposes new obligations on employers. Requests for flexible working must now be dealt with within two months of receipt unless an extension is agreed upon. This requirement may pose logistical challenges for businesses without a dedicated HR department. It underscores the need for efficient and effective processes to handle such requests.
Consulting with employees
The most significant change for employers is altering the consultation process before refusing a flexible working request. Previously, employers were mandated to consult with the employee before refusing a request. The Act maintains this requirement but introduces a significant caveat: it does not legislate the specifics of what this consultation should entail. This change affords employers more discretion in their decision-making process. However, it’s crucial to note that this change should not be misconstrued as a free pass to refuse requests without due consideration. Despite lacking legislative specifics, employers are still expected to act reasonably and fairly in handling flexible working requests, ensuring that each consultation is meaningful and constructive.
Despite these changes, the Act does not make flexible working a ‘Day 1 right’. Employees still need 26 weeks of service before they can make a request. This provision maintains a degree of stability for businesses, allowing them to establish working relationships and expectations before accommodating flexible working arrangements.
Right to appeal?
The Act also does not require employers to offer a right of appeal if a flexible working request is rejected. While the ACAS Code of Practice on Flexible Working recommends offering a right of appeal, the Act does not require it. This omission may be a point of contention for employees and could potentially lead to disputes.
The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 represents a significant shift in the UK’s employment landscape. It reflects the growing importance of flexible working in modern employment relations and presents both opportunities and challenges for employers. As business owners and senior managers, it is crucial to understand these changes and adapt your practices accordingly.
What do you need to do?
When faced with a flexible working request, it is important to take it seriously and act promptly. Consider the potential benefits and challenges, consult with the employee where appropriate, and make a fair and reasonable decision. Remember, flexible working is not just about accommodating employees’ personal needs; it’s also about creating a more flexible, resilient, and productive workforce.