The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 is awaiting ‘Royal Assent’. This means that, whilst it’s not currently law it will be coming soon. So what do the new changes bring? It’s well known that the flexible working rules allow a form of working to enhance employees’ work life balance. It can include working from home or having flexible starting and finishing times. In June 2022 the government discussed and deliberated for over a year on a proposed ‘Bill’ for changes to the current rules to give employees more rights. The Bill is now awaiting Royal Assent, after which it will become law.
So what has changed?
Employees will now be allowed to make two flexible working requests within a 12 month period, as opposed to only one request a year. Also, previously employees had to explain the effect of the proposed changes on their employer’s business, but this is now not needed. Employer’s used to have 3 months to deal with any requests by employees but this has been reduced to 2 months, although both parties can agree to extend this period by agreement. This means that employers will have to deal with and consult with their employees in a shorter time period.
What has not changed?
Employees still have to have worked for their employer for 26 weeks before they are able to make a flexible working request – it’s not a ‘Day 1 Right’ unlike some other employment rights. However, there has been speculation that the right to request to work flexibly will be available to employees from the very start of employment and might appear through secondary legislation in the future. However, currently this is not the case.
Both the old and new rules didn’t strictly require employers to allow employees to appeal if their request was rejected, this is despite a recommendation in the ACAS Code of Practice that employers should offer a right of appeal. Notably, a tribunal must take into account the ACAS code when deciding complaints brought with respect to the statutory flexible working scheme, when it appears relevant, therefore best practice would dictate that an appeal should be offered in some circumstances. Finally, the new rules don’t alter the fact that there is no a minimum standard of consultation set out in the rules that employers must follow, meaning that some employers may not consider having a meeting with the employee to discuss the request or consider other options that may be available. However, the ACAS code (which you now know is taken into account by tribunals) sets out best practice guidelines including having a meeting with the employee, so we would always recommend that an employer take a broader approach than just following the letter of the law.
If you think that flexible working affects you and/or your business, we would be happy to support you. To get in touch contact us by telephone on 01723 447 065, via email to [email protected] or click here to fill out an enquiry form.