Flexible Working Changes 2024: A Guide for Small Business Owners

Flexible working changes 2024

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 became law on 6 April 2024, bringing changes to the rights of employees in terms of asking for flexible working.

The new rules have been put in place to make it easier for employees to access flexible working, including making it a right from day one of their employment.

The flexible working law changes have been brought in together with numerous other family-friendly rights. These include an extension to the redundancy protection period for employees on maternity, shared parental or adoption leave, together with the Carer’s Leave Act, which gives employees up to a week of unpaid leave per year.

What are the flexible working changes for 2024?

The new flexible working law makes it possible for employees to ask for flexible working from the first day of their employment. Previously they would have to complete 26 weeks’ of continuous employment before they could make a formal request.

Employees can also now make two flexible working requests every 12 months. This is a change from the previous single request.

The Act will also reduce the time limit for employers to respond to flexible working requests from three to two months, although if the employee agrees, this can be extended.

If an employer wishes to refuse a request for flexible working, they’ll need to consult with the employee. The new legislation will take away the requirement for employees to explain or justify the impact of the proposed change to their working arrangements.

What is flexible working and why should I offer it?

According to Acas, flexible working describes an arrangement that meets the need ‘of both employees and employer’ as to when and how someone works.

Flexible working may include home working, part time working, hybrid working, job sharing, flexitime, compressed hours, annualised hours, term-time working and team based rostering.

Employers who offer flexible working are considered ‘inclusive’ employers and could be more likely to attract high quality workers for the long term.

Flexible working offers further benefits for employers.

As workers have more control over their working arrangements, they become more engaged and less stressed. Appreciative of their improved work-life balance, they tend to stay with an employer longer, and deliver higher levels of productivity.

By not offering flexible working arrangements, employers face various risks, not least the threat of losing workers. The CIPD estimates that around 4 million people have changed careers due to a lack of flexibility at work.

How to handle the new flexible working rules?

Employers will need to update their current policies around flexible working to ensure they align with the new rules.

Management training is vital, as employees must now be consulted before any flexible working request is refused. The right to request flexible working from day one of employment is also a very important change that must be incorporated into working practices.

There are only certain occasions on which flexible working requests can be refused. Clear evidence must be shown to support the reason for refusal.

The reasons are:

  • Burden of extra costs
  • Negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
  • Detrimental impact on quality and performance
  • Unable to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • Unable to recruit additional staff
  • Insufficient work during the times the employee wishes to work
  • Planned structural changes

It may be worth offering a trial period to see how the flexible working request may work in practice. This will provide both employee and employer the opportunity to see how things pan out.

Further reading

Acas has put together a new code of practice on how employers should handle flexible working requests under the new regime.

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