The World of Work by Harry Sherrard

Flexible Working – New Legislation 6th April 2024

Revised Flexible Working Regulations were published in December, to take effect on 6th April 2024. There’s been much talk in the HR and business press about how these changes will impact the workplace, with commentators predicting a significant shift in how flexible working will be approached by employees and, particularly, employers. But I am unconvinced that they will have much effect.

First, the changes themselves. The six month qualifying requirement is abolished and the right to request flexible working becomes a day one right. Rather than employees being limited to a single request a year, two can now be made. The employee was previously required to explain to the employer how the request for flexible working would impact on the workplace e.g. if that employee was not going to be present on a particular day, how their work would be covered.

In my experience that stipulation was rarely enforced by employers, but in any event the new regulations abolish the requirement. Employers need to deal with requests within two months rather than three and must meaningfully engage with the request.

Importantly, the existing business reasons that employers can use to decline flexible working requests remain in force, and the bar is set low. For example, if an employer uses the burden of additional costs to decline a flexible working request, the employer needs only to demonstrate some level of tangible costs, not that the costs impact would be very significant for the business. So, it is important to remember that it is just a right to request, and employees’ ability to challenge employers’ reasoning for refusal is very limited.

But to return to my comment that I don’t see these changes having much effect, this is because employees these days simply expect flexible working. Indeed, as part of recruitment exercises, before a CV has even been read or an interview arranged, prospective recruits set out their flexible working requirements; how many days in the office, how many home and so forth. Flexible working in today’s workplace is not a legal issue, but a recruitment and retention matter. As we all know, recruitment of able staff is one of the greatest challenges faced by businesses today and, if employers default to the regulations rather than being open-minded about flexible working from day one and throughout employment, they will already have lost the battle.

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