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How to process flexible work requests under the new flexible working law 2024

How to process flexible work requests under the new flexible working law 2024

The future of work is remote work. Employers and companies are starting to embrace this future and come around to seeing that it’s a better way to work and live - and good job too.

The Employment Relations Act 2023 represents a watershed moment for remote and flexible work in the UK. As of 6 April 2024, employees will be able to request flexible working arrangements from their first day on the job.

It’s not quite as simple as all that. During the transition to a flexible work culture, there are certain rights that employees have when requesting flexible work arrangements, and likewise, certain responsibilities you have as an employer.

During my time at Charlie, I helped build the policies that became the foundation for Charlie’s flexible work culture, and I daresay flexible worked pretty well for us. I welcome the new flexible work law, and I believe many others will also when they see all the wonderful things flexible work brings.

In this post, I’ll help you unpack the new flexible work law, the changes it introduces, and what it means for you as a small business employer in the UK.

New Flexible Working Legislation in the UK

Work in the UK is going to make a significant shift towards remote work when the new flexible work law, known as the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 goes into effect on April 6 of this year.

The new flexible working law allows employees to request a flexible work arrangement from their very first day at their new job. Previously, employees were required to put in 26 weeks in a new role before requesting flexible work.

This makes flexible work - and the added work-life balance that comes with it - much more accessible to employees.

All employers require all employees to deal with flexible work requests in a reasonable manner, within two months of receipt.

As an employer, you must evaluate the merits of each flexible work request, have a meeting to discuss the request with the employee and give a detailed response with your decision.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has additional guidance on how to handle flexible working requests as an employer.

If you do not handle the request in a reasonable and timely manner, your employee can escalate the issue and take you to court for an employment tribunal.

These rules help open a dialogue between employers and employees and open the door to the benefits of flexible working for employee productivity and well-being.

How to Process Flexible Work Requests as an Employer

Handling the flexible work requests that come into your inbox in a reasonable, timely manner will be made easier with a clear, written flexible working policy that outlines what you should do when an employee makes such a request.

A few guidelines to keep in mind as you make your flexible work policy:

  • Respond Promptly: Flexible working requests should be responded to as quickly as possible but must be completed within three months (this will be reduced to two months when the new law goes into effect in April).
  • Assess the Request: You must evaluate the advantages and drawbacks of each flexible working request. If you refuse a flexible work request, you must give the employee a solid business reason for doing so, such as increased costs, impact on customer service, or inability to distribute workload among existing employees.
  • Explore Alternatives: If you can’t accommodate the employee’s original request, there may be a compromise you can work out. Consider other flexible work arrangements like part-time work, compressed hours, and other flexible work options.
  • Encourage Trial Periods: Is flexible work new to your company? Give it a go and see how you get on. Agree on a set trial period for the flexible work arrangement and measure productivity during this time. Unless it can’t be helped, a trial period should always be given as an option.
  • Maintain Open Communication: Give your employee updates and keep them in the loop as you process their request. Don’t keep them in the dark. All discussions, decisions, and final agreements should be documented, to serve as a reference point for processing future flexible work requests.

Employees' Rights For Flexible Working

All employees in the UK have the legal right to request flexible working. This is what’s known as a statutory application.

Historically, employees needed to work for the same employer for 26 weeks before making such a request. As of 6 April 2024 onward, employees can make such a request from their first day of employment.

Employees must make such a request in writing, specifying the type of flexible work arrangement they desire. Flexible working options can take several forms, such as:

  • Staggered hours: Different start, finish, and break times throughout the day. Once those times have been agreed upon by both employer and employee, they remain unchanged
  • Flexitime: Choosing when to start and end work, often while maintaining a set of core hours
  • Part-time working: Reducing one’s hours, working fewer days per week or working shorter days
  • Compressed hours: Reallocating work to fewer and longer blocks during the week, such as in a 9-day fortnight model
  • Four-day week: The employee has 4 working days at 80% of standard working hours for 100% of pay, with the agreement that the employee maintains normal levels of productivity

While the new flexible work law gives employees the power to request working arrangements that better suit their lifestyle and responsibilities, the arrangement is a two-way street. The employee must be prepared to engage with you as their employer about the potential impacts such arrangements would have on the business.

Be Flexible When Your Employee Requests Flexible Work

The new flexible work legislation going into effect this year makes remote and flexible work arrangements accessible to more people, but it also puts the onus on you to be responsive and considerate of such requests.

A remote or hybrid work culture that embraces flexible work stands to create a culture of trust, empowerment, and respect between employers and employees, which is how things ought to be. Not only that but offering flexible work arrangements can help you stand out in the job market and make your company more attractive to employees who prefer such roles – you can even look into core hours if you're worried about not being able to schedule meetings properly.

While that’s all well and good, having a process to deal with flexible work arrangement requests requires careful consideration and consistency across cases. If you need guidance on how to implement the new flexible working law, get in touch with an HR advisor at Charlie and you’ll be on the road to reaping the benefits of remote work. 

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