Not so long ago, we blogged about changes to the rules for claiming working from home expenses. In a similar vein, today we’re going to take a look at some relatively recent changes to flexible working rules. If you are an employer, it’s a good idea to get familiar with these changes so you stay on the right side of the law.

What do flexible working rules cover?

Flexible working rules cover working from home and in the office, job-sharing, flexitime and working compressed, annualised, or staggered hours.

Employment Relations Bill

The changes to flexible working rules are contained in the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill. This received Royal Assent in July 2023.

Changes to flexible working rules

Under the old system, employees were only able to request flexible working after they had completed 26 weeks of service. Now, employees can ask for flexible working from day one of their employment.

In addition, employees were only able to make one flexible working request every 12 months. Now, under the new law they can make two requests in every 12-month period.

Thirdly, employers now have to respond to requests within 2 months whereas they used to have three months.

The procedure for requesting flexible working has also been simplified. Employees are no longer required to set out how their request for flexible working will affect their employer.

As an employer, can I refuse flexible working requests?

On the face of it, the new rules make it easier for employees to request and obtain flexible working. However, this doesn’t mean that employers can’t refuse requests.

Indeed, the eight reasons for which employers can refuse flexible working requests have not changed. These are:

  1. It will cost too much
  2. The work can’t be re-organised among other staff
  3. The employer is unable to recruit more staff
  4. Flexible working will have a negative effect on quality
  5. Flexible working will have a negative effect on the ability to meet customer demand
  6. Flexible working will have a negative effect on performance
  7. There’s not enough work for the requested time periods
  8. There are planned changes to the business and the request will not fit in with these.

However, the new rules do ensure that an employer “shall not refuse the application unless the employee has been consulted about the application”.

Summary

Although the rules have been introduced to make it easier to work flexibly, it’s also a fact that more businesses than ever are beginning to see the benefits of flexible working. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that millions of people had to work from home and, in many cases, were more productive than when they had to go into the office.

For this reason, many businesses are now beginning to look more favorably on reasonable flexible working requests. Indeed, many see it as a smart move that improves employee motivation.

That said, flexible working doesn’t work for every business. As long as you have a valid reason to refuse requests, the changes made to the rules won’t have much effect in this respect.

Need further advice on any of the topics being discussed? Get in touch and see how we can help.

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    About Jon Pryse-Jones

    Since joining THP in 1978, Jon Pryse-Jones has been hands on with every area of the business. Now specialising in strategy, business planning, and marketing, Jon remains at the forefront of the growth and development at THP.

    An ideas man, Jon enjoys getting the most out of all situations, “I act as a catalyst for creative people and encourage them to think outside the box,” he says, “and I’m not afraid of being confrontational. It often leads to a better result for THP and its clients.”

    Jon’s appreciation for THP extends to his fellow team members and the board.  “They really know how to run a successful business,” he says.  He’s keen on IT and systems development as critical to success, and he continues to guide THP to be at the cutting edge and effective.

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