Transforming Work-Life Balance: The U.K. Flexible Working Bill Achieves Royal AssentChelsea Brooke-Ward
As of 1st October 2023, there is a seismic shift in the U.K.’s employment landscape. Thanks to the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill receiving Royal Assent, British workers are set to gain even more control over their working conditions, thereby dramatically improving work-life balance.
1. The Essence of the New Bill
The Flexible Working Bill, as its name suggests, is a commitment towards promoting a flexible work culture. But what does this mean in tangible terms?
Day One Right to Flexible Working: Unlike before, where workers needed to have been employed for at least 26 weeks, workers can request flexible working conditions from the very first day of their employment.
Definition of Flexibility: Flexible working isn’t restricted to merely adjusting office hours. It spans a range from deciding working hours, altering start and finish times, opting for part-time, term-time, flexi-time, or compressed hours, and even includes the flexibility of workplace – like working from home or another satellite location.
Transparent Discussions: Employers are now obliged to not only consider any flexible working request made by their employees but also provide clear reasons if they decide against it. The dialogue has been made even more efficient, requiring resolutions within two months, an improvement from the previous three.
2. A Wave of Positive Change
This bill comes on the heels of several wins for workers, including a historic uplift in the National Minimum Wage and reinforced employment protections for parents and unpaid caregivers. The landscape for workers across the U.K. is evolving, and the momentum is undeniably positive.
3. The Backing of Research
It’s not just about better conditions for workers. The benefits of this paradigm shift reverberate through the entire business ecosystem. Research, including insights from CIPD, suggests a concerning trend where a lack of flexible working options has led employees to change jobs or even leave their professions. Adopting flexible working strategies, as Business and Trade Minister Kevin Hollinrake pointed out, is beneficial for business competitiveness and productivity.
4. Salient Features of the New Legislation
The specifics of the legislation include:
- Consultation Before Rejection: Employers must discuss with their employees before declining a flexible work request.
- Increased Number of Requests: Employees can now make two formal requests in a year, as opposed to the former one.
- Streamlined Response Time: The waiting period for decision-making has been reduced from three to two months.
- Simplified Application: The erstwhile requirement of employees explaining the impact of their request on employers has been removed.
In light of this legislation, bodies like ACAS and charitable organisations like Working Families are stepping up their support game, offering guidance to employers and ensuring the efficient implementation of these newfound rights.
The passage of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is emblematic of the U.K. government’s forward-thinking approach to employment rights and workplace dynamics. By recognizing the multifaceted challenges and needs of today’s workforce, the government has ushered in a framework that is not only supportive of individual well-being but also conducive to enhanced business productivity and competitiveness. Such strategic, legislative advancements further position the U.K. as a global leader in labour market innovation, setting a precedent for other nations to consider the intricate balance between employee welfare and economic growth. As employers and employees navigate this new landscape, the emphasis remains clear: fostering an environment of understanding, flexibility, and mutual growth.
Chelsea Brooke-Ward is an experienced practitioner specialising in Employment Law and is the head of the Employment Team.
Chelsea has a busy employment practice and undertakes both advisory and litigation work in the Tribunals and County Courts. She regularly represents claimants and respondents across all levels of work, from preliminary hearings, judicial mediations to multi-week trials. She has become a main source of referral to advise on the merits of successful claims, on behalf of insurance companies.
She has experience across the range of employment matters. She has advised and acted in claims involving:
- Unfair dismissal (including automatic unfair dismissal and constructive unfair dismissal)
- All forms of discrimination (direct and indirect discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, and harassment)
- Equal pay
- Unlawful deduction from wages
- Worker status
- National Minimum Wage
- Breach of contract (in the Employment Tribunal and County Court)