Government response to flexible working laws

On 28 October 2022, it was confirmed that the government will be supporting the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill 2022-2023. The government has recently published its latest response in relation to flexible working laws.

In summary, the government have advised the following:

– The right to request flexible working will become available from day one their employment. Previously, it was only available to employees who had up to 26 weeks continued employment. The government has highlighted that this remains a right to request rather than a given right. However, this change would indeed remove the common perceptions that flexible working is to be ‘earned’ rather than the norm.

– Employees will be able to request their right to flexible working twice in a 12-month period. This was previously once a year.

– The length of time for the employer to respond to a flexible working request has shortened from three months to 2 months. The government’s intention for this proposal is to normalise flexible working.

– As a point of guidance rather than statute, the employer will now have a duty to discuss alternatives to the request. It is important to note that such approach will be consistent with the guidance set out in the ACAS code of Practice on handling flexible working requests.

The procedure for flexible working is to be simplified. Mainly, by removing the need for an employee to set out how their flexible working may affect the employer which will save on administration for both sides.

– Previously, an employer can only reject a request for flexible working for a limited number of reasons:
. extra costs that will be a burden on the business
. the work cannot be reorganised among other staff
. people cannot be recruited to do the work
. flexible working will negatively affect quality
. flexible working will negatively affect performance
. the business’ ability to meet customer demand will be negatively affected
. there is a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
. the business is planning structural changes.

The government has not proposed any changes to these eight reasons.

Generally, employers have accepted that businesses’ ability to accommodate flexible working arrangements depends on the individual’s particular role and wider circumstances. However, as a result of the government’s proposals above, many employees will undoubtedly be given more flexibility in how they choose to work. Several studies have supported that employers who can accommodate their employees’ request for flexible working generally have greater staff retention and morale. Furthermore, wider research indicates that flexible working can unlock opportunities for growth. It suggests that, in the absence of suitable working hours or locations, groups of people are either not employed, have retired early, or are working below their potential. Therefore, this area of law is certainly one that is relevant to today’s society and an area to be mindful of as an employer and employee.

Following these changes in the law, it would be good practice for employers to review and update their current staff handbook to reflect these changes. If you think you would benefit from a review of your current policy wording, our team are happy to review your existing policies and draft bespoke policies tailored for you and your business.

Should you require assistance or advice on flexible working requests, please feel free to contact Sarah Collier, Employment Law Partner on 01204 527777 or scollier@kbl.co.uk.

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