Changes to flexible working coming in April 2024 – what employers need to know

Changes to flexible working coming in April 2024 - what employers need to know
Home | News | Changes to flexible working coming in April 2024 – what employers need to know

On 6 April 2024, the widely discussed changes to flexible working will come into force, when the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 take effect. Here’s what those changes are, what they mean for employers and what needs to be considered going forward.

What’s changing?

If you ask most people what the changes to flexible working are, they will say that the service requirement has been removed, as that has been the source of most discussion and debate. In fact, the legislation is actually making more changes than perhaps people realise. A summary of these changes includes:

  • ‘day one right’ – currently employees can only make a flexible working request once they have 26 weeks continuous employment. From 6 April 2024, this becomes a ‘day one’ right.
  • Two requests – currently employees can only make one flexible working request every twelve months. With these changes, employees will be able to make two statutory flexible working requests every twelve months.
  • Timescales reduced to two months – the current timescale for employers to deal with flexible working requests is three months. This reduces to two months under these changes.
  • Employers will not be able to refuse a request until they have consulted with the employee
  • Removal of the need for employees to explain the effect of the proposed change on the organisation, or how that could be dealt with when making a request

The changes do not affect an employer’s ability to reject requests on eligibility grounds or for one or more prescribed statutory reasons.

What does this mean for employers?

With the removal of a service requirement and greater application opportunities, it is possible that employers may see an increase in the number of flexible working requests, so it may present a ‘numbers’ challenge in the first instance. Employers should ensure any requests received, are acknowledged and tracking systems are in place to monitor progress.

Perhaps of more critical importance is the consideration of the reduced timescales and what that means for internal procedures. To ensure compliance, it will be essential that meetings are scheduled and responses returned, including any appeal, within the two-month period. You can extend the timescales but only with agreement from the employee. But critically, managers should look to maintain momentum in reviewing requests to avoid any unnecessary delays.

Importantly the responsibility is now on employers to give careful consideration to the request, its impact and how it might be accommodated. You can ask your employee to consider these and make any suggestions, but you cannot make it a compulsory part of the process.

What should employers do now?

  • Review your flexible working policies to ensure that they reflect the new requirements. Put in measures and systems that support being able to deal with requests within the timescale required. This might include putting in tracking systems to monitor the progress of requests, as well as guidance documentation so everyone involved understands their roles and obligations in the process
  • Train line managers on how to handle flexible working requests in light of the new requirements, particularly providing guidance on how they might make best use of the meeting with their employee, to explore the request and how it can be accommodated
  • Communicate the changes to staff. Letting staff know that these changes have come in and you have adapted your policies accordingly, can be a positive step for employee relations and increase employee engagement

Whilst some employers may consider the changes in legislation onerous, it is important to remember the benefits of flexible working for both employees and employers:

  • Allows employees to proactively manage other commitments, leading to less time taken off
  • Wider pool for recruitment
  • Positive for employer brand and attracting candidates
  • Retention of experienced and valued staff who might otherwise have to leave if they can no longer work their existing work pattern
  • Can promote a more diverse and inclusive workforce
  • Enhanced morale and motivation

The new legislation will not change the core principles behind flexible working. It remains a tool for employees and employers to discuss possible changes to ways of working and how that might be mutually beneficial. What the changes will do is make adaptations to eligibility, timescales and internal processes for dealing with requests. By taking a proactive approach and updating policies and internal procedures, as well as refreshing line manager training, organisations will ensure they are best placed to respond to any requests that are received under the new legislation.

If you would like any support in dealing with flexible working requests, drafting policy and guidance material or line manager training, please contact Sue Meehan Boyes in our team on 07384 468 797.