The Employment Relations Act: Changes to the flexible working regime
Shortly before obtaining royal assent on July 20, 2023, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act prompted the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) to conduct a consultation on updating the Code of Practice. This update aims to align with forthcoming legal changes and cultivate a more supportive atmosphere for flexible working. Initially presented as a private member's bill in June 2022 with government support, the Act strives to improve the existing entitlement for employees to request flexible work arrangements.
The government has affirmed that the Act's provisions, coupled with supplementary legislation, are expected to be enforceable in the summer of 2024. Employers must comprehend these significant alterations and proactively address potential risks to brace for the impending transformation in the legal landscape.
Flexible working: What are the changes?
Removal of requirements to explain the impact of the request
Employers need to understand that the current act removes the need for employees to indicate the consequences of their flexible working requests and how any negative consequences might be solved. While this simplifies the process for workers, it presents some challenges for several employers in evaluating the flexible working arrangements in their businesses.
Reduction in response times
Employers need to respond to flexible working requests within a two-month timeframe as compared to three months. Even though employers might make prompt decisions that might lead to oversights in some industries, it still a considerable amount of time to plan.
Employers are currently required to check in with their employees before rejecting their requests. This might result in protracted discussions and negotiations, hence causing disruptions to business operations and decision-making processes.
Number of requests
Employees can submit two flexible working requests within 12 months.
Flexible working: What will not change?
- Flexible working requests will not become a day one right? Employees are still required to have at least 26 weeks of service before they are eligible to request flexible working days. There have been discussions amongst different governments to make day-one employment rights but this has not yet been finalised.
- Employers are not obligated to offer a right of appeal to employees who have requested flexible working and have been rejected. This has been recommended in several countries as it might improve work culture and build on employee well-being.
Reasons why flexible working requests can be rejected
- if flexible working affects performance and quality of work
- if work cannot be reorganized among staff to enable flexible working of some co-workers
- if people cannot be recruited to do the work
- if It will negatively impact the ability to meet customers' demands
- If there is a lack of work to do during the time the employee has requested to work
- If there might be extra costs to the business that might negatively affect the business.
- Or if the business is planning changes to the workforce and the request will not fit with their plans.
Implication on employers
Employers need to know that the right for employees to request flexible working does not guarantee the automatic approval of the requests. Employers need to have the discretion to assess requests based on business operation needs and business needs. For the reasons above, employers can reject any requests while ensuring fairness and compliance with the law.
It is more important that employers adopt a culture of positive dialogue, collaboration, and transparency. This will help create a positive work culture, promote well-being, and drive success within the company.
Employers are required to prepare by updating internal policies, establishing clear decision-making processes, and allocating resources efficiently. Henceforth, aligning internal policies with new regulations will enable employers to navigate the changing landscape of flexible working.
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