Employees across the country have been granted the legal right to request flexible working from the day they enter a new job. Previously, the right was only applicable if someone had worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more.

It’s hoped that the new Flexible Working Amendment will make for a happier workforce and increased productivity, but what does this change mean for employers? Let’s take a look!

Why the Change?

Flexible working is a broad term but encompasses a different style of work from the conventional 9-5 in the office, and could include adaptations to where someone works, to save them from commuting, for example.

The term and its implementation first came into effect in the early 2000s when parents of children under six and carers of those under 18 could ask for a flexible working arrangement. More legislation was introduced, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, the understanding of flexible working and demand for it has accelerated.

Now the amendments, introduced earlier this month stand to benefit millions of people, helping them balance their work and life commitments and give them more say and more opportunity in where and how they work.

Who Can Make a Flexible Working Request?

Anyone can make an informal request to work flexibly, but now an employee has the right to make a statutory flexible working request from the first day of their employment (although this does not cover the recruitment period) and an employee can make two requests under the statutory regime in any 12-month period. The employee does not have to be a parent or carer and a flexible working request can be made for any reason. 

What Do Employers Need to Know?

Employers now have to consult with workers before they can refuse a flexible working request and it’s on employers to fully understand the types of flexible working that can be requested, these include:

  • Reducing hours to work part-time
  • Changing start and finish times
  • Having flexibility with start and finish time (sometimes known as ‘flexitime’)
  • Working hours over fewer days (‘compressed/ staggered hours’)
  • Working from home or elsewhere (‘remote working’)
  • Working between the office and home (‘hybrid working’)
  • Sharing the job with someone else (‘job share’)

The starting position for businesses should be to consider what may be possible and have appropriate policies and documentation in place.

The Legal Requirements for Employers

As of April 6th 2024, any employee has the statutory right to make a flexible working request from day 1 of employment.

If a statutory working request is made from this time employees will be entitled to make two statutory flexible working requests per year (before April 6th only one statutory flexible working request could be made per year).

As an employer, your decision period is now two months (shortened from three months). This can be extended by agreement with the employee – but within which time you must consider the request, consult with the employee, notify them of the outcome and complete any appeal (if your company policy allows for appeals).

Employees are no longer required to explain how the flexible working arrangement will work.

You must consult with the employee if you intend to reject the employee’s request. ACAS guidance states that this should be done by inviting the employee to a meeting to discuss the request. The aim is to open up a meaningful dialogue between employees and employers which should lead to better outcomes. 

You should also follow the revised ACAS code on Flexible Working.

In addition to the legal requirements listed above which employers must follow, the ACAS guide sets out additional things that employers ‘should do‘ when considering a statutory flexible working request. These are recommended as good practice but not legally required and while there is nothing unlawful in the employer failing to do these things, an employment tribunal may take into account whether the employer had followed these steps.

The current ACAS guidance suggests an employer should:

  • Carefully assess the effect of the requested change for both the employer and employee, such as potential benefits or other impacts of accepting or rejecting it.
  • Arrange a consultation meeting without unreasonable delay if the employer does not fully agree to the flexible working request.
  • If the employer agrees to the request, a written decision should confirm the details of the arrangement and offer an opportunity to clarify any further information that might be helpful.
  • If the original request cannot be accepted in full, the employer should discuss whether a modified version of the request or alternative options might work instead.
  • If the employer rejects the request after consultation, the written decision should clearly explain the business reason(s) and should also set out any additional information which is reasonable to help explain the decision. The decision should also make it clear if the employee has the right to appeal the decision.
  • Deal with appeals as quickly as possible, where they are allowed.

How to Avoid Breaching the Statutory Flexible Working Procedure

The only ways employers can breach the statutory flexible working procedure are:

  • By not giving a permitted reason
  • Taking longer than two months to provide a decision (including any appeal)
  • By basing a decision on incorrect facts
  • By not consulting with the employee before rejecting a request
  • By incorrectly treating a request as having been withdrawn and by not dealing with a request in a reasonable manner

How Should a Statutory Flexible Working Request be made?

There is no specific form to complete but to qualify as a statutory request, it must:

  • Be in writing
  • Be dated
  • Explain the change the employee would like to their working pattern
  • Explain when they would like the change to come into force
  • State that it is a statutory flexible working request
  • State if the employee has made a request previously and if so when

Read more about the Statutory Flexible Working Amendment and download advice and resources from Acas, including templates for a new flexible working policy and more information on how to handle flexible working requests.

Do you have a vacancy to fill? We know a thing or two about recruitment and our team of expert consultants can help you find the best fit for roles in Administration, Customer Service, Sales, Finance, Marketing and IT. Call 01908 229589 or email recruitment@halo-resourcing.co.uk.