News & Insights

Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill Receives Royal Assent

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 will introduce significant changes to the process of flexible working requests.

Flexible working has been an important topic in the current market, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic. A new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill has been under discussion for some time, with its aims set to give employees greater flexibility over where, when, and how they work, supporting those with outside responsibilities and assisting with a work life balance.

First introduced by Yasmin Qureshi MP as a private member’s bill in 2022, the Bill has now successfully been agreed by both the House of Commons and House of Lords. The House of Lords had a third and final reading on 14 July, with no amendments, which allowed Royal Assent to be granted on 20 July. The Bill has now become an Act of Parliament as is expected to be fully in force in England, Wales, and Scotland within a year.

Key features of the Act include:

  • Allowing employees to make two (as opposed to the current one) statutory flexible working requests within a 12-month period.
  • A removal of the requirement for employees to explain the effect of their flexible working requests on the organisation and suggest how this could be dealt with.
  • A reduction of the length of time employers will have to respond to a flexible working request from 3 months to 2.
  • A requirement that the employer must consult with the employee before rejecting a flexible working request.

There has also been much discussion about the right to request flexible working becoming a “day one” right. While this has not been included in the Act, it is expected to be introduced in secondary legislation, removing the current requirement for an employee to have at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment before making a request.

It is expected that the Act will be welcomed by employees, who can look to take more control of the way they work and potentially increase their mobility within the job market.

The burden has, however, become greater for employers, with tighter deadlines and the strict requirement to consult, meaning that employers will really need to demonstrate more clearly their active engagement in the process. Employees having the right to request flexible working does not of course mean approval can be guaranteed, as businesses may not be able to accommodate all requests and are still able to reject them on certain grounds. It is felt that this new legislation would, however, encourage a more meaningful discussion between both parties with the hope that more flexibility can be afforded to employees who seek it.

Employers must ensure that their flexible-working policies are updated, and this new process is implemented once the Act is in force.

If you require help with updating your policies, advice in relation to the above, on any employment related matter, please do get in touch at [email protected].