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Flexible Working Bill – what do employers need to know?

Woman working remotely at a cafe

The way we work has changed dramatically in the last few years. After the pandemic, flexible working became much more common with a big shift towards a hybrid environment.

The government has recently passed a bill into law that enables employees to have more control over how and when they work. It’s important for employers to know where they stand with employees’ flexible working requests – read on to stay up to date.

What is the Flexible Working Bill?

The government has introduced a law that means employees are entitled to request flexible working from day one of their employment.

These are significant changes from the current Employment Rights Act 1996. Previously, an employee needed to have worked for at least 26 weeks before requesting flexible working.

Flexible working can relate to working hours or patterns including:

  • part-time
  • term-time
  • flexi-time
  • compressed hours
  • start and finish times

It can also refer to flexibility in working location – an employee requesting to work hybrid or fully remote, for example.

Before these changes, employees had to “explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks making the change applied for would have on their employer” when making a flexible working request. With the new law, this isn’t necessary anymore.

But there are other key changes for employers to be aware of:

  • employers now need to speak to their employees before a flexible working request can be denied
  • employees can make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period (previously one)
  • employers must respond to requests within two months (previously three)

How can you prepare for these changes?

It’s important for employers to remember that conversations around flexible working can start from day one. This means that you need to know your approach to flexible working requests.

Where in the past you might’ve dismissed the request, you’ll now need to have a conversation about why you can’t offer the flexibility they want.

It might be worth revisiting your employee handbook to make sure you’re being consistent with your responses so all of your staff are treated equally and fairly.

And it’s important to keep in mind that every flexibility request is unique, so it would be useful to decide your approach on each kind of request. Flexibility requests about location, working patterns, and start and finish times will all have different impacts on your business.

The changes come into effect from spring 2025 so you have plenty of time to decide on your approach.

Can you deny a flexible working request?

Yes you can. The law doesn’t require employers to accept any flexible working request, you just need to explain to your employee why you’re declining their request.

Every business and industry is different and a one-size-fits-all approach simply wouldn’t work. Hospitality businesses, for example, will struggle to accommodate hybrid working due to most of the work needing to be done in person.

The new law is intended to make communication around flexible working more transparent between employers and employees.

How can flexible working benefit employers?

Although flexible working doesn’t work for every small business, it’s important for employers to try and accommodate the needs of their employees where possible. The main reason for this is to attract and retain talent.

Demand for flexible working is rising, with data from the Equality and Human Rights Commission stating 8.7 million full-time workers want to work flexibly. If the nature of your business allows you to have flexible working, you’ll likely become a more attractive place to work for potential employees.

And according to government research, there are 400,000 people who can’t work unless they can find a part-time or flexible role, and another 1.5 million trapped in poorly paid part-time jobs below their skill level, because of a shortage of quality flexible jobs.

At a time when many sectors are struggling with staff shortages, enabling employees to work flexibly could be a good way of attracting and keeping them.

Can your business accommodate flexible working? Let us know in the comments.

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Zach Hayward-Jones

Zach Hayward-Jones is a Copywriter at Simply Business, with seven years of writing experience across entertainment, insurance, and financial services. With a keen interest in issues affecting the hospitality and construction sector, Zach focuses on news relevant to small business owners. Covering industry updates, regulatory changes, and practical guides.

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