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Flexible Working Bill: What does it mean for employers?

The Flexible Working Bill has now passed through Parliament and received Royal Assent, but what does it mean for employers?

The Flexible Working Bill has now passed through Parliament and received Royal Assent, but what does it mean for employers and how can they prepare?

Amita Chauhan, an associate in Lodders’ Employment Law team, discusses the Bill and its implications for employers.

Implications of the Flexible Working Bill

Also referred to as the Employment Relations Bill, the Flexible Working Bill aims to provide employees with greater flexibility in terms of how, where, and when they work.

As it recently gained Royal Assent, it is now an Act of Parliament and referred to as the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023. This Act introduces a number of employment law changes to the legislation set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996, including that:

  • Employees are now able to make two flexible working requests in any twelve-month period. This effectively doubles the previous limit of one request per year.
  • Employers need to respond to their staff’s requests within two months, whereas they used to have three months to do so.
  • Employees no longer need to explain the effect that their flexible working request, if granted, would have on their employer or what they will do to mitigate its impact.
  • Employers are required to explore alternative working patterns the employee could adopt and must consult with the employee on these.

Now that it has been given Royal Assent, the Act is officially a new piece of legislation, and it will be enforceable in England, Wales, and Scotland. Employers therefore need to consider how best to accommodate flexible working requests from staff.

If you cannot accommodate such a request for one or several of your employees, you will still be required to discuss alternative options during the consultation, such as offering the affected employee(s) part-time work on a flexible or home-working basis.

Furthermore, if you refuse a flexible working request from your employee, you will still need to provide a legitimate reason for this.

What other actions should employers take?

It is strongly advisable that you keep a written record of any communication with your employees in relation to flexible working. This includes maintaining clear documentation regarding any consultations that take place. Doing so will reduce the risk of an appeal or claim being made against you if you reject a flexible working request. As mentioned earlier, if rejecting a request, you will still need to do so for a legitimate business reason that is covered by the legislation.

You should also ensure that managers and your HR team remain informed of any employment law changes as they come into effect and that they are properly equipped to handle flexible working requests. Additionally, you must ensure that any flexible working policies and processes your business has adopted are updated to reflect, and be compliant with, the new Act.

How will the Flexible Working Bill impact employers?

Amita Chauhan, an associate in our Employment Law team, explains the effects the Flexible Working Bill is likely to have on employers.

“There is no definition within the Bill of what the requirement to consult means, which could create a degree of uncertainty for employers.

“However, whilst the Bill may lead to additional work for employers, as it is anticipated that they will receive more flexible working requests from employees, it is unlikely to have a huge impact on them. For example, employers will still ultimately be able to decide whether or not they accept the request.

“Furthermore, the Flexible Working Bill aims to decrease employee absenteeism and support business agility in the ever-changing world of work. These aspects of the Bill would, of course, be of benefit to employers.”

How will the Bill affect employees?

“In terms of employees,” Amita continues, “the Bill aims to promote their wellbeing and enhance their work-life balance. It provides them with more flexible options in terms of when and where they work. It is therefore likely to positively impact them, provided their flexible working request is accepted.”

If you would like any advice on how the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 is likely to affect your business, or you require other employment law advice, please contact Amita Chauhan.

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