The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 has successfully passed through its third reading in parliament on Friday (14th July), signalling a significant step forward in granting employees better access to flexible working options.
The legislation is now awaiting Royal Assent, which will officially make it law.
Under this new act, employees will gain the right to make two flexible working requests within any 12-month period. Employers will be obligated to respond to these requests within two months of receiving them. Moreover, managers will no longer have the power to reject a request outright, as they will be required to consult with the staff member before making a decision.
A notable provision of the act is that employees will no longer be obliged to explain the potential impact of flexible working on their roles or how it can be managed. This measure aims to empower employees to seek the flexibility they need without undue burden.
However, the bill does not explicitly state a day-one right to request flexible working, despite earlier speculations. Employees will still need to complete 26 weeks of service before they can make a flexible working request.
How has the bill been received?
The Flexible Working Bill garnered strong support from Members of Parliament, reflecting the growing awareness of the importance of flexible working arrangements in the modern workplace. Research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in May revealed that before the legislation took effect, only 14 percent of employers were willing to offer a right to request flexible working from the first day of employment. Furthermore, the survey highlighted that approximately 4 million workers changed careers due to the lack of flexibility in their previous jobs.
The legislation’s sponsorship was led by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi, who argued that “invisible restrictions” were hindering many employees’ career growth potential. Citing figures from charity Working Families, Qureshi emphasised that three out of 10 UK parents remained in jobs below their skill levels because they could not secure flexible working arrangements that suited their family responsibilities.
More legislation to come
The government intends to address the day-one request right through separate, secondary legislation, although specific details on the proposed bill have yet to be tabled.
Commenting on the legislation, Danielle Ayres, Employment Law Partner at Primas Law, expressed concern that the Flexible Working Bill did not require employers to offer a right of appeal if a flexible working request was rejected. She stressed that the bill provided little clarity on the level of detail required in the employer’s consultation with the employee following the outcome of the request. Ayres further emphasised that employers must properly consider flexible working requests to avoid potential discrimination claims.
Acas, the conciliation service, has recently updated its statutory code of practice on handling flexible working requests to align with the changes proposed in the legislation. Employers’ views on these updates are currently being sought in a consultation that is scheduled to conclude in early September.
As the legislation awaits Royal Assent, businesses are encouraged to prepare for the new obligations and embrace the positive impact of flexible working on their workforce.
Note: The date of Royal Assent and official enactment of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 has not been specified yet.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.