The Future Of Flexible Work Requests

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The Future Of Flexible Work Requests

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Author: Laura Spence

Towards the end of last year, we saw the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill go through Parliament. This caught the attention of many, with a headline promise that flexible work requests would become a day 1 right. The legislation has now completed its passage through parliament and is likely to come into force next year.

For this purpose, flexible work extends far beyond working from home. It includes the likes of job sharing, part time hours, flexitime, compressed and staggered hours.

What the Act means for flexible work requests:

  • Employees will be able to make two flexible working requests in a 12 month period;
  • Employers will need to consult with the employee regarding a request;
  • Employers will need to provide a decision to a request within 2 months of a request being made; and
  • Employees will no longer need to explain the effect their request may have on the organisation nor how this should be dealt with.

Whilst the news may be greatly received by those who need more flexibility, the current form lacks clarity in places. Firstly, the day 1 right is not provided for in the Act. Instead, this will be reflected in secondary legislation later in the year. The Act is also silent on what the mandatory consultation should consist of.  

In response to the new legislation, ACAS are updating their Statutory Code on flexible work requests. The Code is yet to be finalised but it will provide useful guidance. The Code is said to provide employers and employees with a clear explanation of the law, alongside good practice advice on handling requests in a reasonable manner. Further, a more positive approach is being encouraged, through an emphasis that requests should not be rejected by default without open-minded consideration and meaningful dialogue. Amongst other things, the Code provides guidance on consultation meetings, decision making and delivering responses to employees. Whilst there is no legal obligation to follow the Code, it is likely to be a good starting point for employers to cross check against their procedures.

Whilst many individuals will be pleased with this positive approach to flexible work, it could cause additional strain on employers. Since the pandemic, flexible work requests have been on the rise, and introducing an employee friendly process is likely to increase these even more. Although it could take a year for this to come into force, now is the time for HR professionals and heads of organisations to consider how they are going to deal with this. To assist with the anticipated high demand of requests, we would advise preparation is started now, including training on the changes and reviewing and updating internal policies and procedures. 

If you require any further information or support in light of this update, please get in touch with the Employment team at Acuity Law.

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