Preparing for new HR laws: Flexible working

  • Employment Law
Increased flexible working opportunities
Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

The future of flexible work changed on 6th April. Meaning, you need to change the way you handle flexible working requests to meet UK law.

All the upcoming changes have one common theme: they make it easier for staff to ask for flexible work. And if that isn’t possible for your business, you may have big questions around how to handle rising demand.

Read on to discover five ways you need to change your approach to flexible work requests.

But first, here’s a reminder about flexible working…

Flexible working is an umbrella term for a wide range of working styles.

This can include allowing staff to:

  • Work remotely
  • Adjust their start and finish times
  • Work full-time hours over fewer days
  • Work on a part time basis
  • Choose when to start and finish work

These options often provide staff with a greater work-life balance.

So it’s no surprise that lots of employees will request some form of flexible working. And from 6th April 2024, you have to change the way you handle these requests…

Here’s how:

You’ll need to be ready for day-one requests

Employees used to have to work for you for at least 26 weeks to request flexible working.

But under the new rules, staff can make a request from the moment they start working for you. Staff will enjoy this new right from day one.

And if a new starter does make a request, you can't treat their request differently based on their length of service. Your new starters have exactly the same rights to flexible work as your longest-serving members of staff.

You'll also need to follow these extra rule changes from 6th April onwards

You’ll need to respond sooner

You used to have up to three months to respond to a flexible working request.

But now, you have to respond to your employee within a two-month period instead.

In an ideal world, you’d respond as soon as you reasonably can either way. But this shorter timeframe may put pressure on employers who already have a high HR workload to manage.

You can’t expect staff to set out the impact

You’ll usually ask staff to set out the impact of their proposed new working pattern.

For example, if an employee is asking to work remotely, this might lead to connectivity issues or security concerns. As part of their flexible working request, you’ll expect your employee to set out how they could overcome these challenges.

But under the changes, staff will no longer need to do this.

It’s another step which will make the process easier for employees – which could lead to more requests heading your way.

You’ll need to consult with staff before refusing a request

Flexible working won’t always work for your business. So sometimes, you’ll need to reject the request.

But moving forward, it won’t be enough to just say ‘no’ and move on.

You’re now required by law to ‘consult’ with staff before refusing their request. This will mean sitting with your employee and exploring whether there are any alternative arrangements they would accept if you aren’t able to accept their original request.

Remember, there are only eight statutory reasons which mean you can refuse a request.

If you need a reminder on the eight reasons you can refuse a request, ask Brainbox below:

You may deal with more requests

Right now, employees can only make one flexible working request per year.

But that limit has increased and staff can now make two flexible working requests within a 12-month period.

This means, if you refuse a request initially, your employees won’t need to wait as long to submit another request.

In other words, it emphasizes how important it is to deal with requests reasonably and fairly – or your employee could respond by submitting another, stronger request in the near future.

The next steps for your business…

Whether you’re pro flexible working or not, one thing is clear: you need to adjust your HR now these changes are in effect.

As a Peninsula client, your HR experts are on hand to review your documentation and update it to keep you legally compliant. And if you need any advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

If you’re not yet a client and want to make sure your business is safe from risk, call 0800 028 2420 for a free consultation today.

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