Each April we see various amendments and changes to employment laws in the UK, but this year the changes are significant, with one key change being to flexible working rights for employees.

Get help with flexible working requests

From 6th April 2024 the right for an employee to make a request for flexible working will be a “day one” right, removing the current requirement for employment to have been for a minimum of 26 weeks (which it was previously).

In addition, the flexible working measures will be supported by an updated ACAS code of practice, which makes a variety of changes to the way flexible working requests should be handled by employers.

It’s important for employers and employees to understand that a right to make a flexible working request is simply that – a right to make a request and have it reasonably considered by their employer.

That means there is the right to make a request, not a right to have flexible working granted. Employers are still able to refuse requests from their staff that they cannot accommodate, but they must be aware of the requirements in the ACAS code in terms of how such requests are handled, which we’ll explore next.

The ACAS code states that “having a clear policy and procedure for handling statutory requests for flexible working can be helpful in making everyone aware of what is expected.” We find that this is true of all people and HR-related topics; set out guidance in clear, easy to understand policies and your managers and employees will know just what they can and can’t expect from the organisation.

The key elements of the ACAS code for flexible working that employers should be aware of include the following:

  • Requests can me made from day one of employment
  • The employer has a general obligation to deal with the flexible working request reasonably.
  • Requests must be in writing and dated, with specific details regarding the requested change, when they would like it to be effective, and if relevant, when they have made an earlier request.
  • When a request is made, the employer will have two months to deal with it (this is reduced from three months); the employer and the employee can agree to extend this period if relevant.
  • Previously the employee had to include in the request, their view of how the request will affect the business and how they could be mitigated; this is no longer a requirement. Instead the ACAS code states that employers should consider the impacts.
  • The employee may make two requests for flexible working in a 12-month period.

Get help with flexible working requests

Considering a request for flexible working

Employers must handle flexible working requests in a reasonable manner, including assessing the effect of the requested change for both the employee and employer, as well as the potential benefits or other impacts of accepting or rejecting it.

The code states that employers must agree to the request “unless there is a genuine business reason not to.”

A decision to reject a request must be for one or more of the following reasons (which are set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996):

  • The burden of additional costs
  • An inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • An inability to recruit additional staff
  • A detrimental impact on quality
  • A detrimental impact on performance
  • A detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Insufficient work available for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes to the employers business

These developments in the law are part of the government’s desire to continue to shift and change attitudes towards flexible working, which saw a very necessary acceptance by businesses during the pandemic. Since then however, it’s fair to say there has been a further shift in some organisation’s attitudes, in an attempt to “get back to normal,” including getting employees back to the regular, office based 9-5.

How we can help

Not all employers will agree with these changes in employment law and ACAS’s approach to handling flexible working, but there are significant discrimination risks associated with not handling such requests appropriately.

We can provide you with an appropriate policy and also guide you and your managers and leaders through handling any flexible working requests, o matter how tricky, or contentious.

Get help with flexible working requests

Call our HR consultancy team on 01789 614336 or email enquiries@thehrconsultants.co.uk and a member of or friendly team will be in touch to arrange a chat.