How HR should prepare for the introduction of predictable hours legislation

So far this year we have seen a wave of new laws bringing in new rights for workers. The latest to be added is The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023, which has been given Royal Assent.

Under this law, all workers, including those on zero-hours contracts, will have the legal right to request a predictable working pattern if they satisfy certain eligibility criteria.

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If their existing working pattern lacks certainty in respect of the hours they work, the times they work, or if they are working under a fixed-term contract for less than 12 months, then workers will be able to make a formal application to change their working pattern to make it more predictable.

Requests can be refused provided they are for one of the prescribed grounds for refusal, for example, the burden of additional costs, insufficiency of work during the periods the worker is requesting to work, or if there will be a detrimental effect on the business’s ability to meet customer demand.

Employees will need to have 26 weeks’ service before they can make a request for more predictable working hours, although this requirement still needs to be confirmed.

This is a brand-new right; however, it does appear to contradict recent calls for employees to have more flexibility in how they work which also resulted in new legislative changes to flexible working requests.

The process for employers dealing with requests for a predictable working pattern is on a par with the process that should be used when dealing with requests for flexible working, although there is one big difference.

Employers only have one month from the time they receive a request for a predictable working pattern in which to notify the employee of their decision, whereas under the proposed changes to flexible working legislation, employers will have two months to respond to requests, down from the current three months.

This new right will hit some employers more than others.

Arguably, employers who will be most impacted by this new legislation are those who have zero-hours contract workers.

But it’s important that all employers are up to date with all new legislation and communicate the new rights that employees have to their workforce ahead of them becoming law.

When these new measures will come into force has not yet been confirmed, but it is expected to be approximately a year from now.

Acas will produce a code of practice to provide further guidance on making and handling requests.

The draft of this code is expected to be available for public consultation this autumn. Following the period of consultation, the code will then be finalised and published ahead of the act and any secondary legislation coming into force.  

In preparation for this, HR should look at all current policies and see what changes are needed to bring them into line with the new legislation.

With the ongoing cost of living crisis, it’s likely that employers with zero-hours contract workers will see an influx of requests for predictable working patterns as they look to ensure job security and a regular income.

So it’s important for employers and HR to start preparing now.

Look at what kind of working patterns would be sustainable and practical for your business and put systems and processes in place so that you’re ready when the legislation takes effect.

Have open and honest discussions with employees when requests do come, and make sure to respond to all requests in a timely manner.

Kate Palmer is HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula