Flexible Working Bill 2023: What you need to know.

Flexible working bill - a girl sitting on her sofa, legs crossed with her cat and lunch beside her as she works on her laptop showing flexible working

The flexible working bill has come around following the pandemic and people’s viewpoints changing about work-life balance, pushing businesses to adapt from the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday in the office.

Flexible working requests are increasingly becoming a significant talking point among employers and employees alike. Flexible working arrangements are helping businesses win during the war for talented employees.

On the 20th July 2023, a new piece of legislation passed through royal assent – The Employment Relation (Flexible Working) Bill 2023.

The new law, set to be in force in the next year, will revolutionise flexible working provisions in England, Wales, and Scotland, presenting a fresh set of opportunities and challenges for businesses. As the Northern Ireland government is not currently sitting in Stormont, the gaps between Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s employment laws continue to widen. 

But what does this mean for employers and employees in practice?

Expanding the Definition of Flexible Working

Previously, most businesses understood the concept of flexible working as a change to working hours, times, or locations. However, the new Flexible Working Bill explicitly allows such requests, firmly codifying this into law. This move undoubtedly broadens the scope for employees seeking a balance between their personal lives and their careers.

Increasing the number of applications

Under the new legislation, employees will have the opportunity to make two applications for flexible working in any 12-month period. This increase from the current single-application policy offers more room for employees to adapt their working conditions to their ever-changing life circumstances.

Simplifying the application process

The Flexible Working Bill also simplifies the application process for employees. They will no longer need to explain the effects of their proposed changes nor the potential impact on their roles. The decision-making process is now more straightforward, focusing more on whether the requested changes are viable rather than on an employee’s justifications.

Prioritising dialogue between employees and employers

A significant amendment in the flexible working Bill ensures that an application for flexible working cannot be refused without consultation with the employee. This provision highlights the importance of open dialogue and cooperation between employees and employers, enhancing mutual understanding and promoting a more inclusive workplace.

Speeding up the decision-making process

With the Flexible Working Bill, the timeframe for decisions on flexible working requests has been shortened from three months to two. This change will speed up the process, reducing uncertainty for employees and allowing businesses to adapt more swiftly to new working arrangements.

Extending eligibility and ACAS consultations

While it was expected that the right to flexible working would become a day-one right, the current stipulation that employees must have 26 weeks’ service to be eligible still applies. However, the government has indicated that this change will be introduced through separate, secondary legislation, although a specific date has yet to be set.

Meanwhile, ACAS, (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), has launched a consultation on updates to its Code of Practice on handling flexible working requests. This move aims to equip employers, employees, and representatives with practical advice on applying the new rules. Although not legally binding, these guidelines will be taken into account by courts and employment tribunals when relevant.

Future of Flexible working

The Flexible Working Bill marks a significant step forward in embracing the changing dynamics of the workplace. It not only reflects societal shifts but also aims to create more inclusive, accommodating, and adaptive work environments.

However, these changes come with their own challenges, especially for businesses. Employers need to be prepared to handle an increased number of flexible working requests and to ensure that these changes don’t disrupt their operations. Open communication, efficient decision-making, and a proactive approach to implementation will be key to successfully navigating this new landscape.

As the working world continues to adapt to the reality of flexible working, the question is no longer if it will become the norm, but when and how it will effectively be integrated into our working lives. Stay tuned for more updates on the Flexible Working Bill and its impact on the future of work.

Benefits and drawbacks of flexible working

As the UK workforce continues to evolve and modernise, the Flexible Working Bill has introduced sweeping changes designed to accommodate the growing need for more adaptable work arrangements. Remember, this bill will not come into effect for another year and only in England, Scotland, and Wales. We await to hear further news for Northern Ireland once the government returns to Stormont.

The flexibility offered by the Bill comes with both considerable benefits and potential drawbacks for both employers and employees.

Benefits of Flexible Working under the Flexible Working Bill

Increased Employee Satisfaction

Flexible working conditions can dramatically improve employee satisfaction. By allowing workers to tailor their schedules around their personal lives, they can achieve a healthier work-life balance, leading to greater job satisfaction and reduced stress levels.

Improved Productivity

Numerous studies suggest that employees working under flexible conditions often have higher productivity levels. This improvement can be attributed to reduced distractions, lower commuting times, and the ability to work during their most productive hours.

Greater Talent Attraction and Retention

The Flexible Working Bill may make companies more attractive to potential employees. For many, the ability to work flexibly can be as appealing, if not more so, than salary. This advantage can help businesses attract top talent and improving retention of employees, as satisfied employees are more likely to stay.

Reduction in Costs

Flexible working can lead to reduced overheads. If employees are working remotely or on varied schedules, businesses may spend less on office space, utilities, and other related expenses.

Drawbacks of Flexible Working under the Flexible Working Bill

Difficulties in Coordination and Communication

While the Flexible Working Bill offers increased flexibility, it may also present challenges in coordination and communication. If employees work different hours or from different locations, arranging meetings or collaborative work might become more complex.

Potential Impact on Company Culture

Creating a strong company culture when employees are working remotely or on different schedules can be challenging. Building rapport among team members may be more difficult when face-to-face interaction is limited.

Increased Demand for IT Support

Flexible working often relies heavily on technology. This reliance can put a strain on IT support teams, as they have to deal with a greater range of issues, from connectivity problems to cybersecurity risks.

Management Challenges

For managers, overseeing a team with varied work schedules or remote working conditions can be challenging. They may need to adapt their management styles to effectively monitor performance and maintain productivity.

As we continue to navigate the new world of work, understanding the advantages and potential challenges of flexible working becomes increasingly crucial. It is an opportunity for businesses to adapt and thrive amidst changing work patterns, but it also requires a considered approach to avoid potential pitfalls.

With careful planning and implementation, the benefits of flexible working can far outweigh the drawbacks, leading to a more satisfied, productive workforce and a business that is adaptable to future changes in the working environment.

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