· Features

Legal ease: Flexible working update for April 2024

The latest changes to flexible working regulations are intended to reflect the continuing evolution of the world of work. Employers should take note of their new responsibilities.

The government has announced that the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 (Regulations) will apply to flexible working applications made on or after 6 April 2024. Flexible working requests may include a request to work part-time, compressed hours or hybrid working, where workers split their days between office and home working.

Read more: If we aren't tracking flexible working… what's the point?

Employees are currently required to work for a company for 26 weeks before being able to make a request for flexible working. Under the new rules, on 6 April 2024, employees will be able to request flexible working arrangements from day one of employment.

The regulations introduce key changes to employment law legislation, including that:

● Employees will be able to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period. Currently the limit is one request per year.

● Employers will need to respond to their staff’s requests within two months. Currently, they have three months to do so.

● Employees will no longer need to explain the effect that their flexible working request, if granted, would have on their employer or what they will do to mitigate its impact.

● Employers will need to consult with employees before refusing their flexible working request.

The update is designed to decrease employee absenteeism, promote employee wellbeing and support business agility by providing employees with more flexible options in terms of when and where they work.

As an employer, if you cannot accommodate a flexible working request, you will still be required to discuss alternative options during the consultation process, such as offering the affected employee(s) part-time work on a flexible or home-working basis.

You should also be mindful that even if you if reject a flexible working request in line with the flexible working request procedure, an employee could bring other claims against you. For example, it is common for claims for indirect discrimination to be brought in these circumstances. Employers are advised to consider such requests carefully and, before rejecting them, always have objective justification for doing so.

It is advisable to keep a written record of any communication with employees regarding flexible working. This will reduce the risk of a claim being made against you, should you ultimately decide to reject a request.

You should also ensure that your managers and HR team remain informed of any changes to the regulations and that they are properly equipped to handle flexible working requests.

Flexible working is undoubtedly here to stay. According to a report by the Office for National Statistics, 44% of workers reported that they were home or hybrid working over the period from September 2022 to January 2023, showing the prevalence of flexible working in today’s climate.

The future of flexible working is still taking shape. Evidence suggests that the ability to work flexibly is increasingly important to young workers and those entering the employment market for the first time.

While an increasing number of employers are embracing flexible working, they are also grappling with how to maintain strong connections with home-working staff, particularly in relation to monitoring, supervision, and working collaboratively.

Employers will quickly identify working patterns that suit them and their staff.

Damian Kelly is partner in the employment team at Lodders.

This article was first published in our January/February 2024 print edition. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.