Let’s talk about Flex: the new Flexible Working Bill and what it means for you

Flexible working is at the top of almost every employee’s wish list, with 76% of employees saying that they would rather have flexible working hours over other benefits such as a company-sponsored retirement plan or an early Friday finish. 

Having passed its third reading in the House of Lords and just awaiting royal assent, the bill, officially called the Employment Relations Bill will become law in July 2023. So, what does this mean for employers? 

  • All workers will have the legal right to request flexible working from Day 1 in their post (as opposed to 26 weeks at present). 
  • Employees will have two opportunities per year to place a request (currently one per year). 
  • Under the new law, employers are required to consult with employees before rejecting their flexible working request.  
  • If an employer can’t accommodate a request to work flexibly, they will be required to discuss alternative options before they can reject the request. 
  • The bill allows employees to make use of job-sharing, flexitime and working compressed, annualised or staggered hours. 
  • Employers must respond to requests within two months, instead of the previous three 
  • It also removes the requirement for employees to lay out how a flexible working request might impact the employer. 
  • Around 1.5 million low-paid workers will be given more flexibility, with new laws to remove exclusivity clause restrictions, allowing them to work for multiple employers if they want to. 

As well as being good news for employees who want to improve their work-life balance, the Government sees the bill as offering more opportunity to under-represented groups in the workplace, including women, disabled people, parents and carers. So, in effect, this should create a wider pool of talent.  

How can you, as an employer, prepare? 

You can start by thinking and planning any potential consequences of the bill that may be challenging to manage. You may, for example, recruit an office-based role, only to receive a flexible working request on the first day of employment. 

Prior to the Flexible Working Bill, this may have caused you to think twice about keeping the employee on, but this bill means the request now must be considered. You should have open discussions regarding why a particular role is or is not suitable for flexible working. 

In preparation, you can: 

  1. Become knowledgeable of the new legislation and plan ways in which you can introduce flexible working in your business if you haven’t already 
  2. Set out a procedure in an employee handbook 
  3. Consider extending your arrangements beyond the typical part-time, remote or hybrid working 

Extended flexible working arrangements could include: 

  • A four-day working week: five days compressed into four 
  • Term-time working: employees can take paid or unpaid leave during the school holidays (useful for working parents for example) 
  • Flexible bank holidays: employees can swap public holidays for another day 

Remember: An amendment to an employee’s contract will have consequences for the rest of your workforce so make sure that your organisation is fully committed to any changes that are introduced. 

Why should you approve a flexible working request? 

Having flexible working arrangements in place provide employers with a competitive edge when it comes to attracting talent. Corecom’s Associate Director and Head of Permanent Practice Lewis Horwell comments “Flexible and hybrid working arrangements are at the top of almost every candidate’s wishlist. The employers that are embracing this have a natural advantage over the rest and are finding their hiring processes are running faster and more successfully than the businesses showing hesitancy or inconsistency in their policies.” 

Scarcity of talent combined with increased economic inactivity has created a vast shortage of candidates, particularly in technology. This, as well as resignations from record numbers of employees, has led to an increase in staff turnover rates. Flexible working arrangements will hopefully open the door for candidates who – for many reasons – find the structure of traditional working hours hard to manage.  

Flexible working has also proven to enhance an organisation’s culture. Research conducted amongst both managers and non-managers at a major technology company by Stanford University, found that hybrid working practices had no effect on productivity. They did, however, boost employee morale and retention.  

Can you refuse a flexible working request? 

Yes, as an employer you can refuse a flexible working request. You should not feel as though you have a duty to approve requests for flexible working if, for example, your company’s operations do not facilitate it. Work that is conducted on-site, such as in a store, a warehouse or a factory, are unlikely to be able to accommodate flexible working.  

Not every employer will be able to approve flexible working requests, nor does the legislation require them to. If you cannot accommodate flexible working, address this by making sure that you are transparent about what you do and do not offer in terms of flexibility. 

To speak to a Consultant about your flexible working arrangements and how your hiring process might be affected, contact contact@corecomconsulting.co.uk.  

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I’ve worked at Corecom since 2018 and I’ve loved every minute of it. The atmosphere is different to any other environment I’ve been in before and it’s really a place where you can get on without any of the classic recruitment stereotypes. I’m a big believer in the fact that if you enjoy coming to work then you’ll never need to be encouraged to perform and that’s exactly the case at Corecom.

Lewis Horwell - Head of Software Development & Team Lead