Charlotte Flatman, Head of Learning & Development at SVC Solutions, explains the consequences for both employers and employees of the newly implemented Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, which received Royal Ascent in July.
Attitudes to flexible working have been transformed by the covid pandemic, and it seems the genie is out of the bottle.
Not only has our understanding of work/life balance changed dramatically in a cultural sense, but quite quickly the legislative picture has moved too, giving employers greater weight to their case for a flexible approach to working hours.
While employees already had the right to request flexible working from an employer, these rights have been strengthened in the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill which was awarded Royal Ascent earlier this month. The bill brings UK law in line with EU employment law including some key changes that have an immediate impact on businesses and their relationship with their employees.
One of the most significant changes is that employees don’t now need to have been in employment for 26 weeks before making the request for flexible working. In fact, an employee can make this request from day one of their employment. Another change is that previously an employee could only make one statutory request for flexible working within a 12-month period, but in the new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill this will now be increased to twice in a 12-month period.
Other new aspects within the Bill include the reduction on the requirement of the employee to consider the impact their request might have on the business, which is now no longer required. An employer could also previously rebuff the request based on eight clear legal reasons, but this has moved to encouraging a more collaborative approach that nurtures understanding from both sides.
The new legislation is certainly designed to further empower employees, but there are still a level of checks and balances that protect the interests of a business, and ultimately the legislation only gives the employee the right to request flexible working, there is no right to have this request granted.
Nevertheless, at an already difficult time for business, particularly in the area of staff recruitment and retention, there are obvious concerns among employers looking to effectively manage the needs of their workforce with the needs of their business. Even at the point of interview, when equality law can make it very difficult for an interviewer to get a full picture of a candidate’s home life and any potential tensions which that might bring to the requirements of work. In theory, a successful candidate could arrive on their first day and make a statutory request for flexible working, completely changing the circumstances of their employment.
While it might feel that this puts an employer at a considerable disadvantage, good employers adopting an open, collaborative and flexible approach to their working environment shouldn’t have anything to fear. What is most important within the consequences of the new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is that a business genuinely considers all the options available to it in the way it looks to accommodate an employee’s request, and if those requests can’t be met in full, actively looking to find an appropriate compromise.
Working in partnership with your employees gives you the opportunity to develop stronger working relationships with them and build employee engagement. Recruitment is expensive and can cost a business significantly in terms of profit and productivity, so keeping experienced and knowledgeable teams together is always in the best interests of a business.