The Flexible Working Bill - What The New Employment Relations Bill Means For Employers

Oli Robertson
Last updated on August 03, 2023

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world of work forever, the wheels were already in motion to give employees a greater degree of flexibility over where and when they worked. One of the Government’s 2019 Manifesto commitments was focused on encouraging flexible working, and after a recent push by members of the opposition, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill 2023 has now achieved Royal Assent.

This new Flexible Working Bill will be a huge boost to workers who are looking for more flexibility around working hours, patterns and locations from day one of a job. 

It’s important that employers are aware of the changes, and to know exactly where they stand when it comes to flexible working requests from their staff.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the details around the Flexible Working Bill and what it means for you and your staff.

What is this new Flexible Working Bill?

The government announced towards the end of July that a new Flexible Working Bill had received Royal Assent, meaning that it will soon pass into law (well, not until 2024 at the earliest).

But what is it?

In essence, the bill, also known as the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, means that employees will now be entitled to request flexible working arrangements from day one of their employment. Previously, an employee needed to have worked for at least 26 weeks before putting in a flexible working request.

So what classes as ‘flexible working’?

Flexible working can refer to working hours or patterns. These include:

  • part-time (anything less than a full five-day working week);

  • term-time (during school term times only);

  • flexi-time (a set amount of hours but with varying start and finish times);

  • compressed hours (the same number of hours, but over fewer days, i.e.: working longer hours per day).

It also refers to working location. So for example, this could be a request to work in a hybrid or fully remote capacity, or even from a different country for a particular period of time.

Previously, employees had to explain what effects (if any) they felt making any requested changes would have on their company. But with the new law, this is no longer necessary.

The legislation is a welcome people-first initiative that will mean employees feel empowered within your organisation from day one.

Other changes that employers need to be aware of are:

  • employers must now speak to their employees before a flexible working request is denied to explain why. (previously they could be denied at the outset);

  • employees can now make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period - previously it was one;

  • employers are obliged to respond to requests within two months - previously it was three.

flexible working bill

When does the Flexible Working Bill come into effect?

There has been no confirmation as to the flexible working bill effective date just yet, but it will most likely come into effect at some point in 2024, so businesses have time to prepare updated flexible working policies and guidelines. We recommend looking through your employee or company handbook to ensure that all guidelines are consistent, so all employee requests are treated equally. 

Does the bill mean that employers have to accept every flexible working request?

No, this new Employment Relations Act (Flexible Working Bill) does not mean that you as an employer have to accept every request that comes your way. All it means is that you must speak to the employee(s) who made the request before denying (or accepting) it, to explain why you are doing so. And remember, you must now respond to all requests within two months, rather than three.

What are the benefits of the Flexible Working Bill for employers?

The new bill will promote a more open approach towards employees who want to work flexibly. Employers who are seen to work the hardest to try and accommodate their employees’ working wishes will likely see reduced employee turnover rates. Not only this, but they’ll be able to better attract talent at the recruitment stage, with nearly 9 million full-time workers wanting to work flexibly. 

Bringing it all together

To recap, the new Flexible Working Bill has received Royal Assent, meaning it will become law, most likely at some point in 2024. It means that employees will be able to request a flexible working arrangement from day one of their employment, empowering them within your organisation from the get go. Employers will now need to speak to any employee who makes a flexible working request before denying it, and you must do so within two months of the request.

Employees will be allowed, by law, to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period, but as a business you can allow them to make more - which could work in your favour when looking to attract the top talent. And finally, employees are no longer required to explain the perceived impact of their request on the company when making it.

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