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Anne-Marie Boyle looks at recent changes to the statutory flexible working regime and how these affect employers.

We have never worked more flexibly than we do now.   This is partly down to Covid which saw millions of us suddenly working from home for months on end, but it isn’t the complete picture.  The trend for moving away from the traditional full-time office-based employment has been slowly growing over the last 20 years. The pandemic just gave it a massive nudge.

2024 sees some significant changes to the statutory flexible working regime.  The first statutory right to request flexible working was introduced for working parents in 2003 and that right was extended to all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service in 2014.

Below I’ve outlined the recent changes which employers need to be aware of.  In my next installment I’ll focus on how I see these changes affect this important aspect of the employment relationship.

 

Flexible Working Requests – what’s changing?

Employers need to be aware that there have been changes to both the statutory right to request flexible working and an update to the ACAS Code of Practice.   From 6 April 2024, the statutory right to request flexible working was amended.  The main changes are;

  • Employees now have the right to make a flexible working request from the first day of employment, therefore there is no longer any need  for a  qualifying period of service
  • Employees may now make two flexible working requests (rather than just one), during any period of 12 months
  • Employees no longer have to explain the effect of the proposed change on the employer’s business as part of their request
  • The employer must now consult the employee before deciding not to accept a request
  • The decision period for an employer to respond to a request for flexible working has reduced from three, to two months

The ACAS code of practice has been amended to reflect these changes.  It also came into effect on 6 April 2024.  The updated Code continues to offer employers sensible advice on how to handle requests.  Importantly, the Code must be followed by employers when considering any statutory requests for flexible working.  Failure to follow the Code does not give rise to a legal claim in itself, but a Tribunal will definitely take the Code into account when considering any flexible working cases before it.

The changes are clearly designed to promote more of a culture of flexible working.  Gone are the days when these requests could only be made for childcare reasons yet  I anticipate that many employees will still cite childcare as a reason for their request.  However, employers need to be aware that a request can now be made for any reason – or indeed for no specific reason.

What should employers do now?

Employers who’ve not already done so should review and update their flexible working policies and procedures to comply with the above changes.  Importantly, employers need to make their managers aware of these changes and how they now need to respond to any requests they receive.

Next time I’ll look at the implications of the above changes for employers including; how they should handle requests, cases where there are concerns about requests and increased areas of legal risk for employers.

In the meantime if you need advice getting to grips with the new legislation please get in touch: enquiries@menzieslaw.co.uk

 

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