New Rules on Flexible Working Requests April 2024

new day one right to request flexible working

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Changes to the UK’s regulations on flexible working arrangements have come into effect today, 6 April 2024. Alongside the introduction of a new statutory Code of Practice from Acas outlining the formal procedures for employees to request flexible work, employees now have greater rights to request flexible working.

The reforms include:

 

a. Right from Day One: All employees can now request flexible working from their first day of employment, removing the previous 26-week service requirement. This opens the door for immediate discussions about flexible work options for new hires.

b. Two Requests per Year: Previously, employees were limited to one request per year. Now, they can submit two requests within 12 months, allowing them to adapt to changing circumstances.

c. Simplified Process: The requirement for employees to outline the impact of their request on the business and suggest solutions has been removed. This streamlines the process and places the focus on exploring workable solutions.

d. Faster Decisions: Employers must respond to a flexible working request within two months unless there are exceptional circumstances. This provides employees with a clearer timeframe and avoids extended periods of uncertainty.

e. Employee Protection: Employees are shielded from detriment or dismissal as a consequence of making a flexible working request.

 

The right to request flexible working was initially established in 2003. The pandemic, however, saw flexible working become commonplace, manifesting in various forms such as flexitime, part-time, annualised, compressed, and term-time-only hours, as well as remote, hybrid, or hub-based locations and job-sharing.

The change in law acknowledges the general shift in attitudes towards flexible working, enhancing work-life balance for many and making organisations more appealing to those who value and offer flexibility.

 

New Process to Request Flexible Working

 

Under the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, from 6 April 2024, employees can request flexible working from day one of employment. The process involves submitting a written and dated request specifying the desired changes and their proposed start date.

Employers must handle these requests within two months (down from three), and they are encouraged to discuss the request with the employee, considering the potential impacts on both the employee and the business.

Consultations might explore alternative arrangements if the initial request cannot be fulfilled.

Employees are allowed to have a representative present during these discussions and can appeal a refusal.

If a request is denied, employees can now submit up to two requests per year, increased from one. The employer should provide a written response, and any denial must be based on specific, justified business reasons

 

Resolving Disputes and Legal Implications

 

This right allows employees to make a formal request for flexible working arrangements, which employers can decline for valid business reasons.

However, the Acas Code of Practice advises against the automatic dismissal of such requests, emphasising the importance of adhering to the statutory process. Neglecting this process could lead to discrimination claims and adversely impact hiring and retention.

Disputes over these requests can lead to claims at an Employment Tribunal, with potential compensation up to eight weeks’ pay (capped at £643 per week) and possibly a mandate to rerun the process. Disputes can also be referred to the Acas Arbitration Scheme by mutual agreement.

 

Employer Takeaways

 

In light of the new rules, employers should take action to ensure compliance.

Crucially, you should review all existing policies and procedures for requesting and assessing flexible working arrangements to update them in line with the new requirements.

Encourage open communication with employees and create an environment that welcomes discussions about flexible work. Managers should be supported and trained in handling such conversations appropriately. Adopting a collaborative approach in the decision-making process, working with employees to see how their proposed arrangements could meet the needs of the business.

In practice, while requests for location flexibility are common, consider various options such as flexible hours, compressed workweeks, or job sharing.

The new rules may also necessitate a shift in focus from adhering to strict schedules to ensuring employees meet their objectives and deliver results, providing them with necessary tools and technology for remote work where applicable.

Despite the potential to refuse requests based on business needs, employers must consider discrimination risks, particularly relating to indirect discrimination or failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. For instance, an unjustified refusal to accommodate flexible hours for an employee with anxiety or childcare responsibilities could lead to claims of indirect discrimination. Employers are advised to ensure decisions are unbiased and consistent.

 

Need assistance?

 

For specialist advice on the new rules and how they impact your organisation, contact employment law and HR experts.

 

Employer FAQs

 

Do I have to accept all flexible working requests?

Not necessarily. Employers can refuse based on legitimate business reasons, but they must consult with the employee and explain their decision in writing.

 

What are some valid reasons to refuse a flexible working request?

Examples could include a negative impact on the ability to meet customer demands, negative impact on team collaboration, or health and safety concerns related to the proposed work arrangement.

 

How can I handle flexible working requests effectively?

Develop a clear policy outlining the process, encourage open communication, and consider all options beyond just location flexibility.

 

What are the benefits of offering flexible work options?

This can enhance talent acquisition and retention, improve employee morale and productivity, and potentially reduce overhead costs.

 

Last updated: 6 April 2024

Author

Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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