The Employee Relations (Flexible Working Bill) introduced by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi has received royal assent and it is set to become law. Following its successful passage in the House of Lords last week, Ms Qureshi emphasized that this is a significant advancement towards enhancing the quality of work for numerous UK employees.
Prior to this bill, employers would only allow flexible working requests after an employee has completed 26 weeks of continuous service. However, this is set to change as employees would be able to request for flexible working from day one, according to a press release by the Government.
What Does the Flexible Working Bill Say?
The legislation goes beyond merely offering the choice to work from home and instead introduces several additional opportunities, such as job-sharing, flexible working hours, and various scheduling options. In addition to removing the 26-week rule, here are a few additional benefits the bill has to offer:
- Implement new rules regarding discussions about flexible working; Employers will have to explore possible options before turning down a flexible working request.
- Grant employees the opportunity to submit two flexible working requests within a 12-month timeframe instead of the current allowance of one.
- Employers will have to make a decision regarding a flexible working request within two months, reducing the current processing period from three months.
- Finally, employees will not be required to provide any explanation regarding how the flexible working request would impact their employer.
In addition to Ms Qureshi stating how this law will help 17.5 million working parents, Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said, “There are millions of parents and carers in the UK who rely on flexible working to enter and stay in employment. It is no longer a perk; for many, it is a necessity. But flexible working isn’t just good for people–it’s also good for business, and good for the economy.”
Extending his thanks to Ms Qureshi and the campaigners, Business and Trade Minister Kevin Hollinrake believes that this law will lead to a happier workforce, which also means increased productivity. He adds, “Not only does flexible working help individuals fit work alongside other commitments – whether it’s the school drop off, studying or caring for vulnerable friends and family – it’s good business sense too, helping firms to attract more talent, increase retention and improve workforce diversity.”
Getting Your Business Ready for the New Law
While the law isn’t set to come into effect before April 2024, there are plenty of ways businesses can start implementing what the flexible working bill is trying to achieve. Susan Clews, ACAS chief executive officer, tells employers to keep an open mind with flexible working requests. Their updated practice code will provide guidance on discussing a request, explaining the decision of the request and how appeals should be conducted if a request is rejected.
Another way to get the discussion on flexible working going is by using the tagline “Happy to Talk Flexible Working” in job adverts. Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD and chair of the Government’s flexible working taskforce, says “Many organisations are facing the dual challenges of skills shortages and talent retention issues and we know that offering flexible working can go a long way towards tackling these problems.
By using the tagline ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’ in job advertisements, employers can open up recruitment to wider talent pools and create fairer and more inclusive workplaces. This transparency supports workers to ask for flexibility and helps to normalise the conversation for all groups.”
Here are a few options that can be offered to employees that come under the flexible working umbrella:
- Job sharing
- Working from home
- Compressed hours
- Annualised hours (where an employee has to work a set number of hours in a year, but they have the flexibility of when to work)
- Staggered hours
- Phased retirement (since there is no default retirement age, older employees can work more flexibly on reduced hours, or work part-time)