Changes to flexible working requests have been approved by parliament and are expected to become law in spring 2024. So, what are the key changes and how might they affect small businesses?
Flexible working requests cover a variety of changes to working arrangements. This includes:
- When hours are worked
- How many hours are worked
- Any change in where the work is carried out ( such as a request to work from home)
When introduced in 2003, the right to a flexible working request was only open to parents and carers. However, since 2014 a flexible working request can be made by any employee as long as they have worked at least 26 weeks with the company.
Employees are allowed to make one request a year. If an organisation wants to decline the request, they can, but they need to use one of the eight reasons set out. The reasons cover a wide range of practical obstacles and what they really do is prevent employers saying no as a matter of principle.
From 2024, an employee will be able to make a request for flexible working from day one of their employment, and will have two formal request opportunities in a year. Employers will need to consult on the request – in practice this is likely to mean holding a meeting and giving the right to bring a companion (in our experience most businesses already do this).
Another change is that employers must respond to the flexible working request in two months, instead of the current three. There will be further guidance when the ACAS code is published. These changes should help to make discussions about flexible working arrangements quite normal, even in job interviews.
Many businesses already find that being open to flexible working arrangements helps them to recruit and retain skilled employees. The CIPD’s report, Flexible and Hybrid Working Practices 2023, states that more than two thirds of employees questioned said that the ability to work remotely was important to them when considering a new role, and 71% of employees considered a flexible working pattern to be important to them. The report pointed out that nearly two million people changed careers due to lack of flexibility in 2022/2023.
Many businesses find offering flexible working arrangements an inexpensive way to attract, motivate and retain employees. This is something that is important in the current environment of skills shortages and recent immigration changes.
You may have read about some of the large firms insisting on employees having a greater office presence so you might be surprised that more legislation is coming along supporting greater rights to request flexible working. However, recent research evidences the continued importance to many employees of having flexible working arrangements.
So, how to prepare?
- Update your policies ready for the changes.
- Be creative in your thinking about how roles can be performed, where and when.
- Ensure when you are recruiting for a role, that you’ve already given thought to potential parameters for flexible working.
- Follow a fair process for applications, but don’t be pressured into arrangements that won’t work for your business.
- Remember that even in the new legislation, this stays as a right to request flexible working, not an automatic right to have it put in place.
If you have more questions about flexible working requests and how to manage them in your workplace then you can reach out to us for HR advice. Get in touch on 0333 014 3888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about our expert HR services and friendly advice