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Home | Employers

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.

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With planned strike action in England and Wales in the coming months, many working parents and carers will face challenges with childcare provisions. How can employers support their affected employees?

Union members are not required to share their intention to strike in advance, so it is very challenging for schools to anticipate the impact on their staffing levels and attempt to source adequate cover.

While the impact within early years settings is hoped to be less significant than within schools, some may also need to close as a result of employee absence. For some employees, particularly those with young children, it may not be possible to continue to work at all if their childcare provider or school is closed and they have no alternative support. 

How Can Employers Support?

During the pandemic, employers had to think creatively about how some employees could continue to work whilst juggling childcare responsibilities. Now is a good time for managers and working parents to revisit these contingency plans. This might include flexibility on when they work, for example, working during the evenings or swapping a working day, or temporary home working.

It may help to start the conversation early, reminding parents of local strike action dates. Some may have support with childcare available from family members, which may enable them to continue to work. For others, there may not be a ‘Plan B’ so it is important to be clear on how absence will be managed on these dates.

The following types of leave can be considered:

  • Annual leave – If the employee has sufficient annual leave, they may wish to request this according to your policy. However, it’s important to remember that annual leave is limited and if there are a significant number of days where strike action will disrupt their childcare provision they may be left with minimal annual leave to take holidays later in the year.
  • Taking time off for dependents – In most cases this is unlikely to be appropriate as the strike dates have been communicated some way in advance. However, employees have a right to absence to care for dependents where their care has broken down unexpectedly. The statutory right is to unpaid leave in these circumstances, although some organisations have now chosen to provide pay in support of working parents/carers.
  • Time off in lieu (TOIL) – Where an employee has worked a number of additional hours without pay, you may allow them to take this time ‘back’ as TOIL. As an employer, you may already have a policy on how TOIL is managed in your organisation and employees would need to follow the requirements for recording and requesting this leave.
  • Parental leave – Employees have a right to request unpaid parental leave up to a maximum of 18 weeks in total, before the child’s 18th birthday. Ordinarily, 21 days’ notice of the intention to take parental leave is required and it is usually taken in blocks of one week. Where only one day is required, this is recorded as a full week of the entitlement.
  • Unpaid leave – A final option to consider is to allow parents or carers to request unpaid leave. You may have a policy regarding unpaid leave that needs to be followed. 

We would encourage employers to be as flexible as possible. Working parents or carers may find this situation particularly stressful and disruptive both at work and at home. You may wish to remind your employees of any workplace sources of support that you offer, for example, via an Employee Assistance Programme.

For support on how you can best support your working parents and carers during the teacher strikes, or how to navigate more complex situations, please contact Kathryn Chidzey-Jones in our team on 07881 092524.

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As long COVID has recently been ruled as a disability, we consider the implications for your workplace sickness management processes. 

Although we are approaching two and a half years since the pandemic hit the UK and living and working with COVID has become routine and common-place, long COVID remains a relatively new condition, with its effects still being properly researched. For employers this is likely to be a cause for concern, given the potential impact on the workforce.

In research conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth at the beginning of 2022, 46% of surveyed organisations had employees who have experienced long COVID in the last 12 months. Whilst this number will continue to fluctuate, it is potentially a significant number of employees who will be trying to work whilst coping with long COVID symptoms. 

There is an expectation that more long COVID cases will come to tribunals, following the recent preliminary ruling in a Scottish tribunal case that long COVID did meet the definition of disability.  

What Is long COVID?

It is described as the persistence or development of symptoms attributed to COVID-19, lasting more than twelve weeks after initial infection. 

Common symptoms include: 

  • extreme tiredness, difficulty sleeping
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness, heart palpitations
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • dizziness
  • joint pain, pins and needles
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • nausea, stomach aches diarrhoea
  • loss of appetite
  • a high temperature
  • cough, sore throat
  • headaches
  • changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes

People can experience the effects of long COVID for weeks, months and even years. Symptoms can come and go over time, sometimes getting better and sometimes getting worse. This means it can affect someone’s ability to work and/or cause them to have higher rates of absence.    

With the potential to last beyond twelve months and to have an adverse effect on day-to-day activities, this is where the question of disability comes in. Long COVID has been found to more severely affect older people, ethnic minorities and women.


Effective Steps for Employers

With inconsistent performance and increasing absence, it’s easy to see how an escalation to capability processes could happen for an employee suffering with long COVID. 

As with any complex sickness issue, it’s important to seek expert medical advice before rushing into a management decision. This is where an occupational health referral can really help but ensure that you ask the right questions:

  • Is there an underlying medical condition?
  • How might it affect the individual’s performance of their duties?
  • What reasonable adjustments could be made in the short or long term? 
  • Whether or not the individual is likely to be covered by the Equality Act?

For this last question, the advice may not always be conclusive but the focus here should not be on determining whether an employee’s condition is a disability, but on getting them back to working at their best. This is where the reasonable adjustments – such as changes to hours and responsibilities, place of work – can really help.  

An Individual Response

With individuals being affected in different ways by a vast array of possibly fluctuating symptoms, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to absence management is unlikely to be possible. It’s therefore important to look at each case individually.

As well as considering and discussing any occupational health recommendations, employers should engage with individuals directly to understand what support they need during any absence and in their return. 

Ensure regular meetings – both during their absence and once they return to work – to provide an opportunity for them to raise any concerns they may have. Checking in regularly upon their return will not only provide positive dialogue and focus on their wellbeing but will also allow you to table any concerns re. workload and productivity early. Along with any adjustments this will demonstrate the support put in place by an employer.

What Else Can Employers Do?

Review existing absence management policies for employees with long term health conditions to ensure these are flexible to respond appropriately. Policies provide guidance but it may be necessary to tailor these to individual situations, for example considering the viability to revise absence thresholds. 

Utilise occupational health assessments as appropriate to discuss how and when an employee can return and what reasonable adjustments can be put in place to support their return, such as hybrid working, flexible hours, adjustment to responsibilities.

Consider refresher training for line managers on absence management processes, in particular the  use of occupational health referrals. Don’t assume your managers are confident in dealing with these situations as some may have had little or no experience of them and may be anxious about getting it right.

Similarly, you might want to provide awareness training for managers to increase their understanding of long COVID and its potential impact on employees and linking this up with absence management processes.

Looking Ahead

The number of people experiencing ongoing symptoms following a COVID-19 infection will likely increase over the coming months and years, and with that a possible increase in unfair dismissal claims. The argument for proactively supporting individuals to return to, and remain at, work is therefore strong. 

How employers deal with such cases could impact not only dismissal claims, productivity, recruitment and training costs of replacing exiting employees but also employee engagement. With competition fierce for skilled employees, employers who demonstrate supportive and positive management of employee wellbeing, including long COVID, will have a better chance of managing turnover and retaining employees.

If you have any questions about absence management, occupational health referrals or other HR queries, please contact Sue Meehan Boyes in our team on 07384 468797.

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The Great Resignation describes the large numbers of workers who were reportedly leaving their jobs, or thinking about it, during 2021. 

Some evidence suggests that this is still evident into 2022 – according to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index 43% of employees surveyed said that they were considering changing jobs within the next year.

People Management also report data gathered by Owl Labs which suggests that one in four UK workers are currently looking for a new role. (People Management, June 2022).

Why Is There a Great Resignation?

For many workers, the pandemic provided an opportunity to reassess their work and life priorities and perhaps prompted a change in mindset – leading them to a career move, a shift to home based work, or perhaps an earlier retirement than anticipated.  

Some workers had time away from work on furlough, perhaps giving them time to consider future career moves. Certainly a move to home working, for some, will have prompted thoughts about different work options which may not have appeared possible in the pre pandemic world. The pandemic may also have led people to reassess what it is most important to them and to consider how they want to spend their time.

What Is the Impact on Employers? 

With large numbers of staff apparently considering a job change or career move, it is more important than ever to think about the retention and employee engagement of your key staff. This is particularly important at a time when recruiting staff can be extremely difficult.

There are some things that you could consider in your workplace:

  • Can you offer flexible working? Not all employers can offer remote working or flexible hours but think about what you can offer to make working for your organisation more attractive.
  • Look carefully at your benefits package. Aside from pay, which will be high on the agenda for many workers at present, what other benefits can you offer that are appealing to staff? Extra holidays, well-being initiatives and health insurance may be attractive.
  • Look at your workplace culture and take steps to promote a positive workplace environment. Think about what your values are and embed them within your workplace.
  • Consider a focus on internal mobility within your organisation. This is often an area which is not a key focus within organisations, with People Management reporting that 70% of HR professionals do not have a clear strategy on internal mobility within their organisation.
  • Consider how effectively you use your professional development processes. Could you focus more on career development for your staff, or perhaps introduce mentoring or coaching schemes?
  • Look at how well you advertise internal vacancies to your existing staff.

We’re Here to Support You

The Narrow Quay HR team can work with you to improve your retention rates and look at your employee engagement by analysing your pay and benefits package, reviewing your workplace culture and helping to embed your core values within your workplace, and working with you to develop a focus on internal mobility.  

For more information on how we can support your organisation, please contact Caitlin Anniss in our team on 07909 683 938.

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The Bank of England’s warning of a ‘sharp economic slowdown’ has sparked further fears that the UK could be plunged into recession.

The Government’s announcement of a review into how it can best support a thriving future UK labour market is welcome news, but with the two stage review taking place over spring and summer, will that support come quick enough?

As the UK continues to see a contraction across all sectors of the economy, we consider what steps employers should take regarding its staffing, to deal with the impact of a downturn.

Review Future Plans

It is important to look ahead to commitments you’ve made to establish if they are critical, and if they are, whether or not they can be deferred until you have some certainty.

For your employees this might mean reviewing training activities to ensure future relevance, and staffing plans, considering whether a recruitment freeze is an option.

Employers do need to ensure though that they consider how they will not only weather a recession but also respond in the aftermath – halting all training and recruitment may mean you’re not skilled and fully resourced to respond to future challenges.

Talk to Your Employees

It’s a balancing act for employers to ensure they keep employees appropriately updated on business plans, but without creating alarm and seeing your key staff jump ship. Key to this is relevant and meaningful communication.

You may not have all the answers or any fully formed plans, but communicating that it is on your radar and that you will share information when you can will help to gain trust and provide reassurance. It may encourage employees to review and consider their personal circumstances and avoid over committing. It can also provide clarity if you do decide to take steps such as putting training or recruitment on hold, avoiding your staff feeling even more frustrated and concerned. 

Follow a Fair Process

In the unfortunate event that redundancies are necessary, ensure that you follow a fair process to facilitate genuine and meaningful consultation that is sensitive and respectful to those affected. If you’ve communicated about your business plans appropriately, it should help staff to see this response is less of a knee-jerk reaction.

You need to prepare in order to run a process smoothly – use the time now to get clarity on your staffing numbers and commitments, making sure to consider all staff who may need to be involved such as fixed term contractors and temporary staff. 

For specialist HR support with any of these issues, please contact Sue Meehan Boyes in our team on 07384 468797.

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National Employee Appreciation Day falls on 4 March 2022. The day provides an opportunity for employers to celebrate their employees and express gratitude for their hard work and contributions.

Actively recognising the contributions of your employees can help improve staff morale and ultimately, staff retention rates. In addition, it is also an effective way of helping employees feel valued by acknowledging that their work is appreciated in the business. 

The day can also be used as a good opportunity to check in on employee well-being. Taking the time to engage with staff in an open and genuine way can help employers find out what they can do to support their staff and if there are any new practices they can adopt to address employee concerns.

In light of the difficulties that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on employees, employers should take any opportunity they can to help improve staff wellbeing. Whether it is an extra hour for lunch, a communal coffee break or time out to pursue a hobby, taking part in National Employee Appreciation Day can be a great way of improving employee / employer relations. 

For more ideas of how you can support your employees, read our previous articles for our top tips for supporting employee health and wellbeing, and how to best support employee mental health.

For support with managing and improving employee appreciation and relations, please contact Helen Couchman in our team on 07799 901 669.

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Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes which lead to nationally recognised qualifications. In 2017, the Government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy with a view to creating funding for apprenticeships and encouraging employees to invest in apprenticeship programmes.

For some employers they can be a great way to attract and develop new talent. However a key barrier to taking on apprentices in certain sectors is the need for varied and flexible employment patterns.

What Are ‘Portable Flexi-Job Apprenticeships’?

On 6 April 2022 the Government will launch a ‘portable flexi-job apprenticeship’ pilot. This is a new type of flexi-job Apprenticeship which will allow employers taking on an apprentice to only give a three month commitment, instead of the usual 12-month minimum commitment. This will allow these apprentices to complete discrete blocks of employment with training, with different employers and businesses, throughout the course of their apprenticeship.

Who Will Benefit?

Certain sectors will particularly benefit from more short-term or project-based apprenticeships. At the moment, these portable flexi-job apprenticeships may only be carried out in certain sectors, namely within the creative and construction industries.

After the minimum three-month arrangement with one employer, the apprentice can either begin a new arrangement with the same employer or move to continue their apprenticeship with a new employer.

How Long Will the Pilot Last?

The portable flexi-job apprenticeship pilot scheme is intended to last for 18 to 24 months. It will be reviewed after 9, 12 and 18 months. The Government has said it will publish guidance ahead of the pilot start date. If the pilot is successful, it may become more widely available in the future.

If you’re interested in considering the use of apprenticeships generally or want to talk about the ‘portable flexi-job apprenticeship’ pilot and want to find out more, please contact Sue Meehan Boyes in our team on 07384 468 797.

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With ‘fire and rehire’ becoming an increasingly used practice for employers, we reflect on the risks of this approach and why it should be a last resort.

What Is ‘Fire and Rehire’?

There are many instances when you might need to change an employee’s contract of employment and there are a variety of ways of doing it.

However, when discussions break down over a proposed change, some employers have resorted to dismissing employees, and then offering continued employment on new terms. This practice is often referred to as ‘fire and rehire’.

In light of its increased use, ACAS have published new advice on making changes to employment contracts and in particular, the risks of adopting the practice of fire and rehire. The new guidance stresses this is an extreme approach to take.


The Risks

You need to consider the risk of tribunal claims from employees who refuse the new terms. You also need to consider the risks and consequences of losing a substantial part of your staff if they refuse the new terms.

One recent Teachers’ Pension Scheme consultation that we did carried that very real risk for the employer. Several senior experienced teachers indicated they would refuse the new contracts and instead apply to work at other local schools.

Finally, do not underestimate the potential damage to staff morale as dismissing an re-engaging employees is almost certainly going to have a chilling effect on the employer/employee relationship.

For the above reasons the fire and rehire option should be treated as an last resort and we recommend you should try to keep discussions constructive, be open to exploring alternative options to reach a compromise and stay focused on trying to reach consensus.

For support with making changes to employee contracts, please contact Sue Meehan Boyes in our team on 07384468797.

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A study published by ACAS last year shows that over half of employers in Great Britain expect an increase in demand for flexible working from employees after the coronavirus pandemic.

Hybrid working is a type of flexible working where an employee splits their time between the workplace and working remotely. 

How Should Organisations Implement a Hybrid Working Approach?

There is no single way to implement hybrid working in the workplace, as no single organisation is identical to another. However, all organisations may wish to consider the following suggestions by CIPD when implementing a hybrid working strategy.

Our Recommendations for Employers

  • Agree an overall strategic position on hybrid working for the organisation. This should culminate in the development of a policy and supporting guidance to clarify the strategy.
  • Consider what approach to hybrid working is really required within your workplace and the specific organisational context. This might include several different forms of hybrid working even within one organisation, depending on role requirements.
  • Engage with people managers throughout the organisation. This helps employees become part of the conversation and provides an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.
  • Offer training and development to support successful hybrid working.
  • Develop a communication plan to share plans for future hybrid working with all employees, including information on how to request hybrid working.
  • Consider and adapt to issues arising from hybrid working such as technology, employee wellbeing, inclusion and facilities matters.
  • Support effective team building and cohesion within hybrid teams.

It is likely that employers will have to deal with an increasing number of flexible working requests from employees in the coming months. Having a clear policy, suitable training and support as well as clarity on the organisational approach will stand all companies and employers in good stead in 2022.

If you would like help with any matters or concerns relating to hybrid working please contact Helen Couchman in our team on 07799 901669.

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The effects of COVID-19 on your workforce may have been far reaching with the consequences not yet fully known. Such effects have no doubt been compounded by Brexit – so much so, that in many cases it may be difficult to conclude whether it’s COVID or Brexit that is responsible.

One thing we can be sure of, is that there is a lot of uncertainty in the workplace right now.

While the Government’s furlough scheme helped to prevent redundancies across various industries, the ending of the scheme in September 2021 left some businesses still having to make difficult decisions. Lack of certainty can very quickly lead to unmotivated employees and for this reason, it is important to foster a positive working environment where staff don’t feel ignored or unseen.

One of the ways you can create this environment, is to ensure your workers feel involved in your decision making, and able to contribute to the success of your business. Recognition and appreciation of peoples’ achievements really does go a long way, as does extending trust to your employees so that they feel empowered.

The easiest way to do this is to talk to your employees one to one. Determine their short term goals, and come up with a plan together as to how they can achieve these.

Showing empathy and support is also key. Whether or not your employees are voicing their concerns, management should take an active role in showing understanding for the impact uncertainty may be having on individuals.

For further advice on how to support your employees at work, please contact Sarah Martin on 07799 136091.