The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill has received Royal Assent, giving millions of people the right to request flexible working arrangements from their first day of employment.
The new rules include changes to employees’ working times, hours, or location. It will also enable them to make two requests in a 12-month period, rather than one as is currently the case, and will mean they no longer have to explain the effect of the arrangement on the business.
Under the law, decisions will also made being made more quickly, with employers required to respond within two months, and they must consult with the individual before a request is refused.
Business and Trade minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “A happier workforce means increased productivity, and that’s why we’re backing measures to give people across the UK even more flexibility over where and when they work. 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.”
Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said: “We are delighted that the Flexible Working Bill has become law. This landmark legislation enables reforms that will give millions of employees access to flexible working from day one on the job, allow for two requests in a year instead of one, shorten the wait time for a decision, and encourage employers to think through how flexibility can work in a given role. We were honoured to have worked alongside Yasmin Qureshi MP and the government to develop and push this bill forward.
“Having passed with cross-party support, this legislation confirms the fact that flexible working is no longer a nice-to-have: it’s a must-have, and it helps many people – especially those with caring responsibilities – stay and progress in work.
“But flexible working is not just good for people; it’s good for business. It can increase an employer’s talent pool, boost performance, increase engagement and retention, and support EDI objectives. Our hope is that this legislation will encourage employers to think about flexible job design from the point of recruitment.”
She explained that to support employers with this, Working Families had relaunched its Happy to Talk Flexible Working logo and strapline, along with guidance for designing and advertising flexible roles that work for the business.
Van Zyl added: “This Bill is a big step in the right direction and will allow many more employees and employers to reap the benefits of flexible working. At Working Families, we will continue to call for even stronger measures to make flexible working the default in the UK labour market.”
Yasmin Qureshi MP, who sponsored the Bill, said: expressed her gratitude to Working Families for helping to initiate and progress the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act through Parliament.
She said: “This new legislation will make it easier for employees to access flexible working opportunities and will encourage employers to think more about what working arrangements they can offer when advertising vacancies.
“For many of the UK’s 17.5 million working parents and carers, the ability to access greater flexibility could be the difference between quitting work or reducing working hours to meet their caring responsibilities and staying in their job and maintaining their income. Flexible working will now be an option for anyone who may need it. No one should be held back in their career because of where they live, what house they can afford, or their responsibility to family. This is the right thing to do for workers, families and our economy.”
Chris Jones, a senior associate in Herbert Smith Freehills’ employment practice, commented: “Flexible working is not about changing the job itself, it is about changing the way in which the job is done. The new legislation does not change the basis for making – or refusing – a flexible working request, but it does change the process by which one is made and handled.”
He concluded: “This is also a useful point in time for employers to remind themselves of the difference between flexible working and agile working. The fact an employer may already have an agile working environment, in which employees are already able to – for example – work from home a certain number of days per week is not a reason on its own to refuse a formal flexible working request. Indeed, the fact it is accepted many jobs can now be done partly remotely means that any decision to refuse a flexible working request must be supported by a strong rationale.”