Flexible Working - new rights for employees

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act

Flexible working has been a feature of the UK workplace for several years and is something that many more people were exposed to during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a significant increase in the number of employees working flexibly.

Flexible working is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of when and where someone works and includes such things as working from home, job sharing, part-time working, compressed hours and term time working.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 came into force on 6 April 2024 and allows employees the right to ask if they can work flexibly from the first day of their employment. Previously, an employee could not make such a request until they had been employed for 26 weeks.

They can also now make two such requests in a 12-month period instead of being limited to only one.

This is something that business owners need to be conscious of as it is a bit of an employment law minefield, but according to Acas, around 43% of employers are not aware of the law change.

As a side note, the same research indicated that 70% of employees are also not aware of the change in their employment rights, although an awareness campaign is planned over the next few months.

Demand is high

The new reality of employing people is that many now want options to work flexibly.

The electrical retail group, Currys has recently completed a study that suggested that 43% of recruitment candidates will not even apply for an advertised role if it does not include flexible working as an option in the advert.

In contrast, however, only around a third of job adverts are for flexible roles and the most in-demand type of flexible working, part-time, is an option in only around 12% of jobs advertised.

This may present an opportunity for your business in terms of attracting (and indeed retaining) talent and you could be restricting your potential talent pool by up to half simply by not stating that flexible or part-time arrangements are an option in job adverts. 

The matter can also be a driver behind some team members' moving on as the Currys research suggests that around half of desk workers state that their desire for flexible working has increased since the pandemic.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that 6% of employees who hand in their notice do so purely due to a lack of flexible options.

The march to flexible working has been referred to by some observers as being a ‘new era’ in working and only around 28% of businesses are now based in the office full time.

Some 14% of respondents to a recent survey by Startups.co.uk, stated that they are planning to increase the number of days that their staff can work remotely next year.

Can an employer decline a request for flexible working?

Yes, an employer can refuse to accommodate a request for flexible working provided the grounds for doing so are clear and reasonable.

The core reasons for declining a request include:

  • Flexible working will affect the quality of work

  • Flexible working will affect performance

  • It would incur additional costs that would damage the business

  • There would be insufficient work available during the proposed working times

  • Customer demand will not be met

  • The work cannot be reorganised amongst other staff members

  • The business is planning changes to the workforce

The business reasons for declining a request should be set out in its employment and recruitment policies. 

For example, having a clear policy on the suitability of flexible working arrangements for new recruits during the initial stages of their employment when onboarding, training and understanding of the company culture are all being undertaken, is far better laid out in advance, rather than in response to a request.  And remember:

  • It is unlikely that a blanket policy will be deemed reasonable in every situation.

  • Some employment rights and protections extend to prospective candidates, not just employees.

What should I do as an employer?

You need to plan how you will respond to both a request for flexible working and more broadly, the realities of employing people in 2024.

Embracing the shift to flexible working is something that all businesses should consider as a policy as if this is something, as the research suggests, of an inevitability, taking advantage of what will become a new reality is far more advantageous than resisting it.

Employment offers may need to be re-written to reflect the realities of The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 and employee handbooks and contracts of employment may need updating (and don’t forget that the National Minimum Wage also increased in April).

ACAS has produced a new Code of Practice on requests for flexible working and our HR specialists here at ATN Partnership are always ready to help.

Talk to us

If you would like clear, concise, and easy to understand help and advice on any issues that you are concerned about, then you can contact us on 01474 326224. Alternatively, visit our website or email us info@atnpartnership.co.uk.