New flexible working legislation comes into effect in April

Starting April 6, 2024, significant amendments to employees’ rights regarding flexible working are set to take effect with the implementation of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023.

Having received Royal Assent last July, the new act aims to enhance access to flexible working arrangements, now established as a day-one entitlement. While many employers already afford their employees the privilege to request flexible working from the onset of their employment, research from the CIPD reveals that only 14% had implemented this practice before the legislation came into effect.

Despite the progressive nature of these changes, employee awareness remains relatively low. Shockingly, a recent report from the conciliation service Acas disclosed that a staggering seven out of ten employees were unaware of their impending right to request flexible working from April onwards.

In tandem with the flexible working reforms, a suite of additional family-friendly rights will also come into force. This includes an extension of the redundancy protection period for employees on maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave, as well as the implementation of the Carer’s Leave Act, providing employees with caring responsibilities up to a week of unpaid leave annually.

So, what precisely do these changes entail?

The new legislation eliminates the prerequisite of 26 weeks’ continuous service before an employee can formally request flexible working, effectively establishing it as a ‘day-one’ entitlement. Moreover, employees will now have the liberty to submit two flexible working requests every 12 months, a notable departure from the previous allowance of a single request. The Act will streamline the time frame for employers to respond to such requests from three months to two, although extensions are possible with employee consent.

To ensure compliance, employers must engage in consultation with employees before refusing a request. Crucially, the burden is now lifted from employees to justify the impact of proposed changes to their working arrangements.

In preparation for the impending changes, employers must revisit their existing flexible working policies to align them with the new legal requirements, especially concerning the tenure required for eligibility. Equally vital is the training of managers to navigate the revised rights effectively, emphasising the need for prompt consultation and adherence to shortened response times.

When considering this new era of employment legislation, our team at Hutchinson Thomas stands ready to support businesses in navigating these changes and ensuring compliance while fostering a workplace culture that champions flexibility and equality.

We work with employers across all their employment law requirements. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your legal needs with an expert employment solicitor, call us on 01792 439 000, or fill in our contact form.